Second Year PA Student Blog: Anna Stephenson

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Anna Stephenson PA-S
Anna Stephenson PA-S

Each Student is Unique – A Path to PA School

One of the most important things I have learned in PA school thus far is that a career in medicine is a dynamic lifelong journey. Each of my classmates has an individual story detailing the events culminating in becoming members of the Duke Physician Assistant Program Class of 2020. During orientation, I remember being struck by my classmates’ various life and work experiences. Each person contributes a unique perspective to the class, and the encouragement and camaraderie of my classmates has certainly helped to ease the sometimes grueling nature of life in PA school.

Much like the multifaceted nature of my class, you have things that make you unique and invaluable – talents and accomplishments, successes and struggles. These aspects of your life will be assets to round out a prospective PA school class comprised of diverse individuals. In my case, it was refreshing to know that there is not one particular “cookie-cutter candidate” that shines above the rest. During my undergraduate career at UNC Chapel Hill, I stumbled upon courses in Peace, War, & Defense department, which ultimately became my chosen major. I completed the prerequisites for PA school while also enrolled in courses in history, political science, and national security. I enjoyed the breadth of knowledge that I acquired in my undergraduate career but worried that it might make me a weaker PA school applicant, so I was both thrilled and relieved when my Duke Physician Assistant Program (DPAP) acceptance letter arrived. I am grateful to know that my unconventional major, as well as some personal undergraduate struggles, did not make me a lesser candidate.

Clinical Year and Looking Forward

I remember sitting in the DPAP classroom last year, so eager to see patients and hit the ground running. Now, almost halfway through the clinical year, I have endured highs and lows that are inevitable as a PA student. Each rotation provides a unique learning environment and offers the privilege to work alongside providers with different perspectives and varying expectations. There is a period of adaptation that accompanies the start of a new rotation when it is necessary to become acclimated to a new setting and to discern how to work best with different preceptors. Through each varying experience and challenge, I have undoubtedly had my moments of feeling inadequate. While exciting and enriching, rotations are also demanding and stressful. Some weeks, I am exhausted and defeated - there were recently five consecutive days where I did not see sunlight. In these moments, it helps to remember why I’m here. When I stop and think about previous patients that have impacted my life, I know I made the right decision to pursue a career as a PA. Pausing to step back and look at the ‘big picture’ of my journey has been the constant push I need to persevere, and I relish the excitement that accompanies making a difficult diagnosis or receiving a compliment from a patient or preceptor.

Each day, I hope that I am deserving of the trust that many patients freely give when they place their health in my hands. I try to soak up all of the knowledge and clinical pearls that my preceptors share. As I continue through the clinical year, I recognize that medicine is a complicated and ever-changing field and that this is just the beginning of a journey that will last a lifetime. So, prospective students, remember to embrace your unique qualities and experiences, and best of luck in your own journey towards becoming a PA.


Anna Stephenson is a second-year student with the Duke Physician Assistant Program. Email anna.stephenson@duke.edu with questions.

Editor’s note: Duke Physician Assistant Program students blog twice a month. Blogs represent the opinion of the author, not the Duke Physician Assistant Program, the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, or Duke University.