Second Year Student Blog: Patrick Whitman

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Patrick Whitman
Patrick Whitman, PA-S

It’s a question we remember being asked from our earliest memories: What do you want to be when you grow up? (For me, I wanted to be a fighter pilot.) It’s a ridiculous question to ask a child, but gets more serious as you work your way into adulthood. Deciding what career you want will help determine where you study, where you live and the people you will call your peers.

You’re asked a similar question in PA school: What do you want to specialize/practice in? As a first-year student, you have ideas of the type of medicine you might want to practice. Some of us are adamant about working in a specific field from Day 1, while others don’t know. The truth of the matter is that a new PA student is as prepared to answer that question as a child is to know what they want to be when they grow up.

Those who do stick to their pre-determined path throughout PA school are the lucky ones, indeed. I thought I was one of them but, much like me as child, my ideas of a future career changed with all the new things I learned in life. In that same respect, PA school really mimics all of my prior education in school and life. Over the past year and a half, I have learned a lot about medicine, how to be a working professional, and — most of all — a lot about myself.

‘A place of exponential growth’

PA school is a gauntlet of tests, tasks and assignments, but it’s also a place of exponential growth. Learning about fields of medicine in the first year and then experiencing them in the clinical year dovetails into learning more about yourself. You find yourself growing in ways that will surprise even yourself. Being with patients face-to-face incorporates something most of my previous education didn’t: emotions. On a daily basis you get glimpses into the lives of your patients that cause you to react and think about them, their situations, and that field of medicine differently.

An example of this was my pediatrics rotation. Not having children myself or really ever interacting with children had me quite scared, but I learned very quickly that kids were not as terror-inducing as I had previously thought. My preceptors showed me that children are tons of fun and should not be feared but protected with the best care we can provide them. It also turns out kids are hilarious goofballs, so it figures that I, also a big goofball, would get along very well with them. I grew as a person so much in those short four weeks and am so much better because of it.

As I look ahead at my four remaining rotations, I try to keep an open mind and remind myself that new experiences are not scary and can open up a world of opportunities and avenues to practice medicine that I will be passionate about. As a future PA, I’m lucky that I am afforded the ability to work in different specialties so I can let my various passions for medicine direct me to having a fulfilling career. In all my years of education, I can say that the past 17 months have been the most accelerated learning experience of my life. While a younger me laments that I haven’t become a fighter pilot yet, I know that my experiences here have made me realize that I couldn’t be happier to have my preconceived notions overturned.

Patrick Whitman 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.