My PA Journey — Stephenie Orihood

Military spouse in PA School

Tell me about yourself

My name is Stephanie Orihood. I am a 33yo PA-S2 and military spouse with two kids – Caleb 7yo and Maggie 2yo. I worked as a dental hygienist for almost 8years but felt a little dissatisfied in my work. So, I started looking around for careers that would fit well with my healthcare experience and love of interacting with patients, but would be more fulfilling for me and a little bit more challenging. PA really fit the bill and that’s when I started doing what it takes to get into the program. Some of my undergraduate work still qualified but it took me about 2yrs to fulfill all prerequisites. I ended up at UNC Chapel Hill where I will graduate in December. I author a blog called Mom Unglued that is really a mom blog but I have written more about medicine while in PA School. Instagram is the best way to get in touch with me, @svorihood, and anyone can feel free to contact me.

What made you decide to become a PA?

I knew that I loved medicine and healthcare but wasn’t as interested in the dental side of things. I saw that PA as a profession was very involved in patient care, able to treat patients and collaborate with other providers – and you could do all of that with a Masters degree. Which, for where I was in my life with two kids, was perfect.

How are you managing a military family while in PA School?

My husband was a marine for 8 years and is now Active duty National Guard. He has not been deployed yet this year, which is nice but he is gone for 2-3wks at a time which is very challenging for me with the kids and an unpredictable clinical rotation schedule.

How we handle it is by using every single resource that we have and that includes family. We also have a few college aged babysitters that we work with. We got their names from other moms. They help with morning drop offs and afternoon pick ups when family can’t do it.

It’s all about scheduling and having back up upon back up because I’m not always going to be available. It helps that I communicated my situation with faculty as well. Part of why I chose this program is because they are really committed to working with veterans and military families. They know my situation and I think I have proven I am able to work hard despite my mom status. We plan and all of our ducks are in a row unless something weird happens. But my faculty has been very understanding since it hasn’t happened often. Prior to clinical year, we were told to have backups for childcare because we get 5 absences during the clinical year for illness, kids, vacation, etc.

What is your advice to other military spouses considering PA School?

You can do this as long as you have some kind of support.

Number 1 – Everybody needs to be on the same team. Your spouse needs to be on board and supportive in anyway that he/she can be. Even if it is from a distance. That’s very important because if you’re partner is checked out and doesn’t want you to do this, it’s probably not going to work out that well.

Number 2 – Establish a support system. Reach out! Military spouses are usually very supportive of one another. So that’s a really great resource. Establish a good daycare, possibly a nanny. Knowing your resources in general is a good idea. We used a military daycare subsidy, Child Care Aware, that helped us to be able to afford daycare. To find a good daycare with great hours that we feel comfortable with while I’m not working has been a huge blessing for us as a family. Being a military spouse is a hard life but it does come with some advantages.

Also, I kept hearing that clinical year is so much better than didactic. I was told I would love it and would have a better “school life balance”. I do love it but I think that it needs to be said that for moms in general, clinical year is much harder to work around with your family than didactic year. Didactic is straightforward, this is your class schedule M-F. But with clinical year there have been times when I needed to be in at 4:15am and stay late. Some of your Preceptors will not care you have a family which makes it very challenging. I have been less involved in the kid’s lives this year, less able to go to school events, less likely to be home for dinner or even on weekends. Clinical year for parents is hard.

Advice on locating a school that is military friendly?

I haven’t really found any other programs that were as military friendly as the one I’m in now. The program was started with the military in mind. But I would definitely suggest asking those questions on your search. “Do you have any other moms in your class or veterans/military? For most of us, we just want whatever program we can get into that will keep us closest to home.

Were there any concerns about the age gap between students?

It’s a small program of only 20 students. Maybe half are younger, in their early 20s and the other half in their late 20s to early 30s. Six of us are parents. It has its challenges, but my class is great and everyone gets along and supports each other. That first year you are one big family- and just like family, sometimes you need some distance!

As one of the older students, it’s nice to have a little bit of life experience to bring to the group. It helped me to keep things in perspective, for example “It’s just an exam, it’s not the end of the world.” A perspective that some of the younger students don’t have yet and we older students can help them out with. A lot of the younger students, and students without family responsibilities, have been great stepping into the extracurricular roles so those of us with commutes and families don’t have to. Everyone brings something to the table.

If I’m being honest, one of the more difficult things for me is hearing students without families mention that we don’t have enough time to finish assignments or study. I have to remind myself that this was a choice that I made to go back to school. I’m an adult with two children, a crazy schedule and a husband in the military. They didn’t make that choice for me, I did. It benefits no one and is unfair to say “Hey, I have a lot more going on than you.” We all have our own “life stuff” going on, mine just happens to be a family.

What were the hesitations, if any, to becoming a PA?

I didn’t want to disrupt my family’s life. I had a decent job, a great schedule and not knowing where my husband is going to end up is a stressor. But ultimately the biggest thing for me was that I was going to see my kids less.

I sat down and spoke with my oldest, then 6 years old, to communicate to him what I was doing, why I was doing it and how it would affect and benefit the family in the long run. Doing that really made me feel better as a parent but it still is very hard. Especially on some of these clinicals where you are working really long hours and you don’t get to see them much. I have to work really hard to push the mom guilt away, but I’m not going to lie- I’m not really good at.

I hope that as they grow up, my kids will remember their mom working hard to achieve her goals. It will hopefully be motivation for them to do the same to create their dreams and reach their goals.

What does a Typical Day look like for you?

A Day In The Life – Stephenie Orihood

FAQ

GPA – Cumulative 3.4, Science 3.6

GRE Scores – Quantitative 151, Verbal 160, Analytical Writing 4.5

Undergrad – B.S in Biology with a certificate and license in Dental Hygiene

CASPA Submissions – 2, The first time I didn’t know what I was doing. I don’t think I applied to enough schools or early enough in the process. My first application was submitted to the only program still accepting applications. The second time I applied to 3 schools. After being rejected the first time, I reached out and asked what I could do differently. The feedback was to do more shadowing and raise my GPA.

If you could go back to the day that you decided to become a PA, what would you tell yourself?

It’s going to be a longer road then I expected, but worth it.

What is your advice to other moms who are thinking about PA school but hesitating?

Apply. I don’t think that there’s any reason not to apply. If you think it will be better for your family, just do it and see what happens.

Any advice to the parents concerned about finances?

It’s hard, very hard. We have a strict budget. I cut out little luxuries that I was used to like, for example getting my nails done. We started looking into daycare fees and using family instead of camps for the kids. Really anywhere that we could cut corners, we did. Also communicating with family that we couldn’t go on certain vacations was important and they had to understand that. I received a small scholarship from school when I started but that is gone now. Some tuition we paid out of pocket but most of it is covered by student loans.

Any additional words of advice?

Prepare mentally and give yourself a little bit of grace. Let go of the things you can’t control. My house is not clean right now and my laundry isn’t perfectly folded but i’m okay with that. My husband is getting ready to leave tomorrow for another trip, the house is going to be a disaster and the kids might not eat perfectly healthy this week. But I’m going to let go of that and allow myself to take care of the things that are really important so that we can get through this tough period of time in our lives without me completely losing my mind. You may be an amazing human being juggling all of these things, but you still need to take care of yourself.

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