Second Year Student Blog: Melanie Overcash

Friday, November 16, 2018

Melanie Overcash, PA-S
Melanie Overcash, PA-S

“You’re comfortable with babies, right?” It was a simple question being asked of me by my pediatrics preceptor on the first day of the rotation. I considered the different avenues I could go with my response:

“I’m great with babies!” was an option, and would certainly have put my preceptor at ease, but it was not the truth. I didn’t really know if I was comfortable with babies because I had never been around one before. (Somehow, I had gotten through 26 years of life without encountering anyone younger than two years old.)

So, I decided to go with the truth and responded, “I’ve actually never held a baby … or really ever been around a baby.” The response definitely caught my preceptor’s attention, and after the worried look receded, he reassuringly said, “Well, we’ll change that.”

Prior to my first day in pediatrics I was less-than-thrilled to start the rotation. In my mind, the idea of interviewing much younger patients for the history of their present illness sounded frustrating. I remember being a child and I was not the most reliable historian. Additionally, I was terrified I would accidentally hurt a patient. Babies, especially, are known for being so fragile; what if I forgot to hold the head or accidentally hurt one of them during the exam? Not to mention, I had heard horror stories from providers (who probably were a little burnt out), about having to deal with difficult parents.

However, I decided to embark on my first day of pediatrics with an open mind and welcome the experience.

On rotation: ‘By the second week, I was having a blast! ’

The first week was a blur of getting acquainted with vaccine schedules, how a “well child” looks and acts, and how that differs based on age. But by the second week, I was having a blast! ! It was nearly impossible not to smile when I entered a room and had a goofy kid smiling back at me or giggling while I pressed on their belly or tested their Babinski reflex. I also appreciated having the opportunity to intervene in unhealthy practices my patients exhibited, as well as applaud and encourage continuation of good practices, to help shape their health for years to come.

As expected, many patients gave conflicting reports of their symptoms, but this gave me the chance to hone skills in identifying objective signs and symptoms to make an accurate diagnosis, without relying so heavily on the patient’s report. And while it was sometimes heartbreaking to see a child present absolutely miserable from one illness or another, it was so much more rewarding to see them happy and healthy again on a follow-up appointment, knowing that we had a hand in helping them heal.

I had a few heart-to-hearts with challenging parents, which I now am grateful for, as those provided invaluable experience for staying calm and level-headed. Finally, I can’t express how remarkable it is to watch children progress through the different stages of development and share in the excitement with parents as they witness their children grow.

Clinical year is the time to experience all that you can, and the experience will help shape your skills and plans for the future. When I look back on my resistance to the idea of practicing pediatrics, I see that the best thing I could have done was remain open to the various rotations we are lucky enough to encounter at the Duke Physician Assistant Program. By being open to the experience, I was able to expand my medical knowledge, gain invaluable skills, and realize that I had been closing a possible door to my future without really knowing what was behind it. So, welcome every opportunity that comes your way during your clinical year because, whether you expect to enjoy it or not, it will ultimately shape you into a competent (soon-to-be) certified physician assistant.

Melanie Overcash is a second-year student with the Duke Physician Assistant Program. Email 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 Community and Family Medicine or Duke University.