My PA Journey – Lewis Smith

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Tell me a little bit about yourself?

I’m a 37-year-old man, husband of 12 years and father to 5 daughters and 1 son ranging from 9months to 10years old. Before PA school I served as a firefighter paramedic for 11 years. Prior to that I worked as a lifeguard for 10 years while playing football at Tusculum College in Greeneville, TN. While in college on a football scholarship, I injured my knee. This was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to focus more on my education and realize that I wouldn’t be able to play forever. I completed a BA in Visual Arts then headed back home to Miami where I coached little league and taught swimming lessons.

So, you are an Artist?

Yes, I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. After changing my major a few times, I finally decided on pursuing what comes natural to me. I enjoy painting portraits and landscapes, sketching. But I lost some of my passion over the years as I’ve been more focused on providing for my family. I can still draw what I see, but my creativity isn’t what it used to be.

Why did you decide to become a PA?

Originally, I wanted to become a registered nurse. There are part-time nursing programs available for firefighters allowing us to work full time. In 2014, while completing my RN prerequisites, I got a job as an ER tech just to see if this is a career that I Wanted or Could pursue.  I studied in the break room whenever work slowed down. When the nurses would see me, they suggested I look into PA school since I already had a bachelor’s degree and the PA and RN pre-reqs at Miami Dade College are the same. I had no idea what a PA was so when they gave me examples of who at the hospital were PAs, I was like “What?! I thought they were doctors!” As I spoke to more of the PAs and shadowed them on and off the clock, I thought to myself, “Wow, this is something I want to do.” It was a chance to better myself and pass down basic medical skills to my children while exposing them to different career options. Plus the salary was icing on the cake.

What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?

Fear. But fear is my motivation.

What I am doing has never been done at my fire department. One colleague went on to medical school and became a doctor but the majority look into nursing. Part-time PA school doesn’t exist, so I worried about the financial aspect. Thankfully, my wife and I are very financially disciplined but as parents of 6 kids, there’s always a concern about money. During the didactic year I am on leave, so when I get back to work, I will owe the city money for the benefits I am receiving. The time commitment and income lost is a big deal.

What has been your biggest setback so far?

I came up short in Clinical Pathophysiology, so I will be retaking that course this fall. I wasn’t sure what to expect from PA School as far as the workload and material goes. Everyone I spoke to beforehand gave me generic information, nothing that was useful in helping me prepare. I passed all my other courses with flying colors and now that I know what’s expected of me as a PA student, I’m ready and I’m going back like Hercules.

How did you bounce back from that failure?

Picked myself up, sat back and counted my blessings!

I was pissed off when I failed the course, but I had to tell myself “You’re in the program … you’re here. Out of all those applicants they chose you for one of the 55 seats.” I know there are many who did not make it and would cut off their left foot with a butter knife to be in my position. Take the experience for what It is, learn from it, get up and keep it moving. It was an important lesson in humility.

How did you prepare for the program?

My family and I have been doing this for years. I’ve been a firefighter our entire marriage. My first job was 2.5hrs away and we had our first child that same year. We are all used to the schedule of me being away for long hours. My wife is AMAZING! She is used to holding down the fort while I’m away. After baby number 1, we started having children what seemed like every 2 weeks (lol). The more kids we had, the more overtime I put in, so we had a routine. There wasn’t much adjustments that needed to be made since living this way for so many years prepared us for the program.

What affect has PA school had on your children?

Before starting the program, my wife and I sat down with the two oldest children since they are at an age where they need more daddy time. We spoke to them about what changes to expect when I went back to school. Now that I am in the program my kids are very involved. They help me practice my physical exams by telling me where I went wrong: “daddy you forgot to palpate the frontal sinuses.” They are really soaking it up. They also see that things can get done if you apply yourself.

How do you manage it all?

My drive is the biggest thing getting me through. I tell my kids all the time that whatever your goal is in life, treat it as if someone is trying to drown you in 3ft of water. Attack everything with that level of intensity, like your fighting for a breath of air.

What is the importance of support system?

It’s huge! Probably one of the most important aspects of PA School. That’s why I can do what I do and make it seem easy. My wife is the core of my support system, then we have back up from our mothers and a team of aunties ready to go – unlimited babysitters should we need them.

There is a peace of mind that comes along with knowing help is there when you need it, but it’s important not to abuse that help either.

Would you encourage anyone to do go through PA school without a support system in place?

Not at all! It can be done but I DO NOT recommend it.

What does a typical Day look like for you?

“A day in the life”

What do you do for Me Time? Any days off limits?

I play a lot of chess, it keeps my mind stimulated

Friday nights and most of Saturday is family time. No books, phone … nothing! Just me, my wife and the kids.

You’re a father of 6, married and in PA school from 8am-7pm Monday – Friday; How do you find the energy to study?

Everyday is different. I try to keep my routine the same, but I listen to my body. If I feel that I need rest, I’ll go to bed and set my alarm an hour early to study.

What do you wish you knew before beginning PA school?

The workload and content of the material.

Knowing what I know now, I would’ve brushed up a little more on pathophysiology and come into the program more prepared.

FAQ and Application process?

I applied to PA School once back in 2016. Miami Dade College doesn’t require a GRE so I never took it. They have an entrance exam that applicants must take if selected. Those scores and your CASPA application determine if you get an interview.

GPA – 3.5, science 3.8

PCE&HCE- Thousands of hours

Volunteer/Shadowing – I listed 200 on the application but I did a lot more.

If you could Rewind back in time to the moment that you decided to become a PA, what would you tell yourself?

Hit those books and brush up on your medical knowledge

Any advice to the parent who is hesitating?

Just go! Do it!

The time is now. You can’t wait because you have kids, you will always have kids, they aren’t going anywhere. The earlier the better. With that being said; Anything worth having is worth sacrificing for. Treat this process like a workout; you may feel the burn initially, but it gets better as you build up a tolerance.