In August 1991, I walked into the empty classroom I would soon be teaching my first class in. My mind was wracked with anxiety in this quiet room as I considered what it would be like to begin teaching a classroom of new PA students in just two short weeks. I wondered, am I even qualified to teach? Despite years of clinical practice, I felt like an imposter, having no idea how to develop lectures or motivate students. I’d also felt like an imposter many years prior when I first wore a white coat and saw my very first patient. At the time, I at least had been trained on what to do and how to do it. Teaching was entirely different—an endeavor I hadn’t been trained for.
Looking back, the exams I developed were quite inadequate. Oh, the horror I felt after administering one of my exams and finding it completely flopped with the students. My instructional methodology was solely lecture-based. That was the only way I knew how to teach. When students raised their hand to ask a question, I was terrified I might not know the answers to their questions. I spent hours preemptively studying so my students could get a solid answer. After some time, it became clear this wasn’t sustainable and I had to admit my limitations. Fortunately, I found it was acceptable to tell students they can look up the answers to their questions—it was not only permissible, but quite appropriate. That first year as a PA Educator, I averaged 80 hours a week trying to master the steep learning curve to become an effective educator.
My experience as a first-year PA Educator provides a glimpse into the struggles many, if not all, new PA faculty face as they transition from clinical practice into academics. Many experienced PA faculty may be able to relate when I say I considered leaving the classroom to return to clinical practice on several occasions those first couple years. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for many new PA Educators to decide the struggle and stress is unsurmountable, choosing to leave the education field. Why do some new PA Educators decide to stay while others don’t?
I believe those who stay in the classroom are able to overcome the first years’ challenges because of their willingness to embrace reinvention. Those who avoid change struggle to transition from the clinic to classroom. Yet change and self-reinvention are part of life. The ability to adapt provides one with strength to continue on in the face of difficulties.
We are constantly reinventing ourselves. Our personalities grow and change, we build different relationships, and many of us transition between careers. Physician Assistants commonly change specialties, requiring a re-engagement in the learning process that keeps our minds fresh. We remain enthusiastic because we continue to learn new things. The transition from PA clinician to PA Educator specifically requires a massive reinvention of our inner landscape; the clinician with the knowledge base and clinical experience must learn how to share this vital information with future generations of PA students.
To better embrace change and learn to reinvent yourself, it’s important to recognize becoming a great PA Educator will take time; you are learning a new set of skills. Social anxiety and insecurity in the classroom often run rampant, so I encourage you to be kind to yourself. Don’t put pressure on yourself to master it all immediately. Remember what it was like as a new graduate practicing during the first year. Your first year as a PA Educator will be quite similar, and the more adaptable you are to this reinvention, the more likely you will choose to keep on as a PA Educator.
As you consider your own reinvention, I recommend reading Reinventing Yourself by Dorie Clark. Clark is an expert on personal reinvention and her book is a fantastic resource that will provide clear insights on how to navigate this journey.
As PA Educators, we are teaching young adults who will become educators, clinicians, authors, and entrepreneurs. We must learn how to empower our students as they prepare for a career of continuous reinvention. How can we do that unless we ourselves embrace such reinvention in our own lives? Perhaps the best example we can give our students is to personally embrace change and reinvention to become the best possible educators for our students.