My PA Journey – China Smith

Balancing China

Tell me about yourself?

My name is China Smith, I recently graduated PA School from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, TX. Growing up, my family moved around a lot (father was a pilot and parents had a love for travel). We finally settled in a small town of 3,000 people in Northern Texas. I met my now husband while in high school and we married just 10 days after graduating. From there I attended Baylor University as a pre-med student. I had never even heard of a PA when I entered college. During my first semester at Baylor, we had a PA-C guest lecture about his profession and that immediately sparked my curiosity. I had been feeling anxious about the whole med school process and had concerns about starting a family in my 30s. Listening to the guest speaker, I knew that PA is where I wanted to be in medicine!

The changes were made from Pre-med to Pre-PA and I began chipping away at my pre- requisites. Towards the end of my junior year I found out that I was pregnant with our son. I felt terror and total shock at the thought of all my PA plans being ruined.

Silly, I know.

My husband thought I was crazy and could definitely become a PA, but I needed more convincing. So, I reached out to a close friend, who is a PA-C, and she reminded me that motherhood was a joy and plenty of moms go through PA school. She encouraged me to trust in the Lord and lean on His wisdom instead of my own. That was the reassurance that I needed to hear so I took a deep breath and continued my journey. She was right. I graduated in August. My temporary license just arrived and I will soon be starting my career in Urgent Care.

Why did you decide to become a PA?

Time was the biggest factor for me. I’ve always wanted to be in medicine. The time it took to complete med school and residency scared me. I had friends going through it and it seemed to take forever. Although I love nurses and think they’re awesome, I was never interested in nursing myself – the medical model just better suited me better and I really desired the ability to make medical decisions. As a PA, the pay was great, it seemed to fit the family lifestyle that I wanted. I also loved the horizontal mobility of PAs and how they work so well on a team.

What reservations did you have about attending PA School as a mom and How long did it take to convince yourself that you could do it?

There were so many horror stories about how hard PA school is, I thought I couldn’t be a good mom and student. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to do both things well. I wanted to give myself fully into both roles and not be an okay student or mediocre mom.

It took some time to get over that. I trusted my friend’s opinion very much. She knew my heart and personality. I had the mindset that it wasn’t possible and needed someone to either reassure me or tell me to pursue something else. I went into the conversation “cautiously optimistic” that I would leave with peace about my decision, whatever it was. She calmed my fears and gave me the confidence I needed to move forward in the application process.

What obstacles did you have to overcome once in PA school?

Scheduling!

My husband was a paramedic and worked 48hr shifts, making me the sole care giver during that time. I had to learn to manage my time efficiently. That meant early bed times for my son and making sure I was on time for pick up and drop offs. My professors were really good about making sure we got out by 5pm. Now my husband works for a nonprofit and life is a lot less chaotic.

What is the importance of a support system in PA School?

Support in PA school is crucial to completing the program and remaining sane. You will often ask yourself “Is it worth it?” – All the stress and student loan debt. It’s important to remember that it is only for a season. We all have struggle seasons. The PA program is very difficult to go through on your own so I wouldn’t recommend to do this without support.

I didn’t have any family members or friends nearby to help with my son, so it was just me and my husband. But my classmates and the relationships I’ve developed has been my favorite part of PA school. These people are going through this craziness with you. Misery loves company (lol). They understood and spoke little truths when times were rough. Just having someone remind you of your identity and to make you laugh does wonders.

I’m also a group studier. When I’m by myself, I get distracted super easily. Being around others when studying, even if we are studying independently, keeps me motivated.

What affect has PA school have on your child?

My son is 4 years old now and I wouldn’t be any closer to him than I am now if I had stayed home for the last 2 years. He’s become more adaptable, making him flexible when it comes to change. The hardest thing for him is that he is a people person and doesn’t like playing on his own. But I think that he has seen me read so much, it has really given him a love for books. His favorite thing is to bring a stack of books next to me and just sit and go through each page. Currently, he is obsessed with a children’s atlas that is covered in colorful pictures. His level of confidence and easy-going personality wouldn’t be there without the experience of PA school. He wants to do everything on his own and understand that it’s not all about him. Plus, he loves my stethoscope and being a surrogate patient. When I put my stethoscope to his chest, he immediately takes a deep breath and asks, “are my lungs healthy?” It’s the cutest!

How do you manage PA school, marriage, parenting and managing your Instagram page?

It’s all about Priorities – There are many seasons of life and balance is really a myth in my opinion. There will be seasons when some things take more focus than others. That’s ok as long as you keep perspective and your priorities intact.

I wanted to document my experience in PA school as a mother. Someone needs to talk about it and show that it can be done. I’m not naturally a creative person but I needed something else to focus on that wasn’t PA school. Instagram is a great platform for connecting with others but doesn’t take a lot of time away from your day. I will never be someone who is overly concerned about followers (because… priorities), but I love meeting new people and sharing my life through Instagram.

What does a “typical” day for you look like?

A Day in the Life – China Smith

Any Specific day of the week off limits?

I always take Sundays off unless there’s a huge exam the next day. We are in school 4 days a week so on our days off I would study for about 10 hours. Getting a lot done during the day let me have evenings with my family.

What do you wish you knew before starting PA School?

I wish I had better study skills going into PA school. I wasn’t used to studying in a self-directed way, so having those skills going into PA school would have been very helpful. Instead I had to find what worked for me and remember that I was studying to treat patients not pass an exam.

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

There will be tough moments, it’ll feel like you don’t know anything and there will be failures – But you will get through it – just keep learning!

FAQ

Cumulative GPA: 3.74; Science GPA: 3.6

HCE: >500 hours (CNA – 6mos, Scribe – 1yr)

PCE: 200hrs

Shadowing Hours: 100hrs, It was difficult finding someone to shadow. Found the first PA via pashadowingonline.org. I’m grateful for the opportunity but it wasn’t the best experience. Later, my husband met a PA at church while I was away with parents. He told her a little bit about me and that I was looking for a PA to shadow. She immediately agreed and I was able to accumulate my hours with her in Urgent care. We are now very good friends (yes the same friend who reassured me that PA school and motherhood was possible)

GRE: verbal reasoning – 156, Quantitative reasoning-160, Analytical writing-5.0

Major: medical humanities, minor biology

Tell me more about life after PA school?

It’s quiet. I was super nervous about the PANCE and spent a week panicking until the results came back. Thankfully, I passed and now it’s just a waiting game for credentialing paperwork. I’m going to be starting out in urgent care, which was my first love when I was shadowing. But it’s great to have a break as well. I missed reading for fun so I’ve been chipping away at my reading goal of one book per week.

Any advice to the mom who is hesitating?

Go for it! There’s nothing stopping you. Keep your eyes focused on the goal. Keep your “why” in mind. It’s going to be a challenge but your family will be fine, your relationships will be fine.

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