Physician Assistant Student : Staying Organized

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Physician Assistant Student : Staying Organized your Didactic Year


You will receive so many different notes from lectures during your didactic year that you won’t even know what to do with them all. My advice as a physician assistant student: binders, extra large binders, binders, binders, a folder, and more binders. There are really two major methods to organizing yourself during didactic year: by exam (one binder for each exam) or by unit (one binder for each unit). My method is sort of a mixture of the two, I start off with the by the exam method and then once the exam is over I transfer those materials into the unit binders. I had went and purchased one 2” binder for each unit of clinical medicine (Dermatology, Ophthalmology, Neurology, etc.), one 5” binder (should be bigger) for pharm, 2” binders for the remainder of my classes, two 2” binders as “current exam” binders, and one of those 3 hole punch folders with the metal tabs so I could put stuff in it as a “take home” folder.


I would print out the schedule for two weeks, no later since it is most likely going to change by that point, and put it in a clear sleeve in the very front of the 3 hole punch folder in the metal tab part. That way I was able to quickly peek into my folder when needed to see what class was next and also take the schedules out to make adjustments as needed. Right behind that I kept extra loose leaf paper. I would print out the lectures the night before and then 3 hole punch them and then put them into the right side of the folder as normal (not into the hole punched part) for easy access . I hold punched them before the lectures started because I once made the mistake of hole punching after the lecture not even thinking that I just hole punched through a lot of my notes that I had already taken. If you hold punch before then you will avoid this issue by simply writing around the holes. Once I got home and finished reviewing the slides that I had gotten that day for Clinical Medicine I would then place them into the binder labeled “Clinical Medicine Current Exam” which contained the other packets that I was already lectured on for that next exam in Clinical Medicine. The same went for Pharm, once I finished reviewing it they day I got the lecture I would put it away in the “Pharm Current Exam” binder. This way I was able to have all of the packets for the next Clin Med/Pharm exam conveniently placed in one binder for studying instead of having to pick through old packets as well. Once I took a clinical medicine exam I would go home and take out all of the packets from the “Clinical Medicine Current Exam” binder and put them into labeled binders based on the unit (Derm, Neuro, etc.). There were multiple units per exam and often the units were not always completed by the time the exam came around so there was a lot of sorting going on that day. After a Pharm exam I would take the packets from the “Pharm Current Exam binder” and place them into the 5” pharmacy binder which was further separated by exam via tabbed dividers. As for the other classes I would just keep everything in chronological order in their respective binders. Most of those classes were only once a week with a quiz every class so I would keep the lecture with me in the take home folder for quick review when possible and then place it in that class’s binder after the quiz was over. If there was anything that was due on that day of classes I would put whatever was due in the left hand side of my take home folder so I could quickly check that it was there before leaving my house in the morning. As a side note, it’s always a good idea to email yourself or upload important documents that are due so that if something happens or you misplace it then you can quickly print out a copy at school.


As far as what I actually brought with me to school, I never took any text books with me unless we were specifically told by a professor to bring the book in on a certain day. They were all just too heavy to lug back and forth to class every day. I also kept the Pharm/Clin Med current exam binders in my backpack along with my take home folder and also the binders for whatever other classes I had that day that were not Clin Med or Pharm. My backpack was always very full and took up the space of another human being in the small elevator but I really liked having all of the packets for the upcoming exam with me in case a friend wanted to review that day or if a classmate brought up a good question or found an error in one of the packets so I would be able to correct it right away before I forgot.


I would also strongly recommend making a study schedule where you write out goals for the week. I used my agenda mate for this and every day I had “review today’s packets written first on the list and then “review for pharm exam friday” or whatever the upcoming exam was. I also wrote the due dates for papers/projects in and also the upcoming exam date. I know this all sounds like very simple stuff but when there was so much going on and so much to study during didactic year I would often forget to study for that EKG quiz that we had on the same day as the Pharm exam because I forgot to write it down and was too worried about Pharm to even think about EKG. I would also schedule in one evening off a week (if possible) into your agenda so you don’t burn yourself out from studying all day, everyday.


My method of organization might seem a bit meticulous to some but that is what I needed to do to stay on track. If you are the type of person who can have everything sprawled out across the floor and yet still know exactly where to find everything and that is what you like to do, then go for it. I, as I am sure some of you do too, like to stay as organized as possible during times of stress so I can prevent slip ups like forgetting about the EKG quiz or misplacing the case study that was due when I was thinking about all of the other things happening during didactic year.


Look for my next blog about how to de-stress and relax even when you think you can’t!

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John Bielinski, Jr., MS PAC is a practicing emergency medicine clinician, and has been lecturing nationally for more than ten years, teaching the tactics that have proven invaluable in his career as a medical professional.