First Year Student Blog: Ruby Bowers

Monday, July 31, 2017

Ruby Bowers, PA-S

Bright Lights, Desert Sun, 8,000 PAs Gather at Mandalay Bay

My alarm goes off at 3 a.m., but I’m not dreading it this time. This early wake-up call is not for last-minute cramming before yet another exam, but instead it is for an exciting school-sponsored trip to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) National Conference in sunny Las Vegas!

I jump out of bed, throw on some comfy travel clothes, and grab my bags so I can go pick up my friends as we venture to the Raleigh-Durham International Airport. We get through security and decide we need some Starbucks because, although it is still very early, we’re too excited to sleep on the plane. After all, we are traveling with two-thirds of our class to the biggest PA conference in the country!

After one long flight across the continent and a second short jaunt from San Francisco, we finally land in Vegas. Current time is 1:00 we made it! We catch an Uber ride and head to the Luxor Las Vegas hotel where we will be staying for the next five days. The conference is being held at Mandalay Bay Resort -- which is right next to our hotel!

Once checked in to our rooms, we quickly fix ourselves up a bit and meet some classmates to register for the conference. Luckily, the events don’t start until the next day, so the line is short. We start to collect the swag: a water bottle, pens, and a cool bag full of pharmaceutical ads for meds we don’t yet have the authority to prescribe (but one day soon)!

We spend the afternoon by the pool, and the evening taking in the Las Vegas Strip. We decide to head back early though, as we have been up since 3 a.m. East Coast time and we are totally stoked to attend the next day’s sessions.

Day One

The official first day of the conference is full of fun sessions of our choosing — Genomics in Medicine, CAD, Chronic Diarrhea, Bedside Ultrasound, and the list goes on …  — since the student SPARK Sessions don’t start until Day Two. We choose to attend several sessions that certified PAs attend for CME credits, but find it to be a helpful review of what we’ve already learned.

We attend Genomics in Medicine nervous that we won’t understand a thing that the lecturer is talking about, but low and behold, we understand nearly everything — turns out we actually retained some of the medical knowledge we’ve been inundated with all year long! Later in the afternoon, we attend several more sessions, including the LGBT social caucus to network for our trans health student project. Then we’re off to attend the AAPA Cheers to 50 Years PA celebration, complete with a dessert bar and champagne toast!

Day Two

Day Two proves to be just as busy as the last; full of SPARK sessions covering topics specifically for students such as How to Ace your Interview, PANCE preparation and Surviving the Clinical Year. After several informative hours, we rush into the auditorium for the highlight of the conference: ZDoggMD! He puts on a hilarious two-and-a-half-hour show covering different aspects of health care, the importance of PAs, and performing several of his remixes. As soon as ZDogg finishes his encore, it’s time to hustle down the hall to the Duke Alumni Reception. We spend a couple more hours mingling with our classmates, faculty and alumni of the program over a delicious tater tot nacho bar!

Day Three

The final day of the conference begins with a career fair full of potential future employers from all over the country and the United Kingdom. After the career fair we wander into a giant room full of tables and booths — the Exhibition Hall. How did we not know about this yet?!

There are endless booths representing different organizations, drug companies, PANCE review courses, and cosmetics. We even get to practice inserting IUDs with the makers of Mirena. After we’ve filled our bags with more swag and brochures, we attend a few more SPARK sessions and grab a quick bite to eat, because it is finally the night our team has spent months training for: the National Challenge Bowl!

Our Duke Physician Assistant Program team heads down early to meet with the other teams, as the rest of our class and faculty gather outside of the auditorium with 81 other schools anxiously waiting for the doors to open. Cheers, screams, and flashing AAPA sunglasses fill the auditorium as we cheer on Duke PA! Five intense rounds of medical questions and two hours later, we decide it’s time for some karaoke on the strip as it’s our last night in Vegas!

The following morning we wake up with just enough time to grab one more delicious meal before we head back to the airport en route to Durham. No problems sleeping on this flight; after four full days in Vegas, we are exhausted. Overall, the conference was a worthwhile experience, and one more step along our path to becoming PAs. 

Ruby Bowers​ is a second-year PA student with the Duke Physician Assistant Program. Email with questions.
Editor’s note: Duke Physician Assistant Program students blog every month. Blogs represent the opinion of the author, not the Duke Physician Assistant Program, the Department of Community and Family Medicine or Duke University.