In our previous blog, we discussed the value of using data to determine which PA students are “at-risk” for struggling in their education, along with the idea of pre-matriculation education modules to help even the playing field for those students. It is immediately apparent, however, that while this is a beneficial step for students who have been flagged as being “at risk,” it might also miss a number of students who will quite simply have difficulties because PA education is difficult.
The truth is that experiencing growing pains upon entering PA education is not uncommon, even for students with exceedingly high GPAs. Students experience difficulty when adjusting to the vast amount of information required to learn in PA education, to the rigors of the didactic year, which may be quite different than their previous education, or merely to the stress of graduate-level studies.
Setting aside the various other reasons students may struggle, there is a common theme among the majority: they often lack foundational study skills, such as notetaking, reading skills, and time management. Thus, we recommend that either during orientation or during the first few weeks of matriculation, all students are included in a Study Skills Development program. We see this as a step that provides double benefits, certainly for the students themselves, but also for preparing faculty and advisors for any further problems that may arise.
This is either a class (for example, worth 1.0 credit hours) or a seminar provided during orientation that covers study skills that lead to graduate-level success. Such a seminar or class would introduce or reinforce basic study skills including organization, time management, high-impact study skills and test-taking techniques.
Another important aspect of the Study Skills Development Program is alerting students to their individual learning styles. The VARK (Visual, Aural, Reading/Writing, Kinesthetic) model is introduced. Students may answer a series of questions which determine their preferred learning style. Following this determination, students are immediately given a number of suggestions on how to best process, recall and incorporate material based on that preferred learning style. Some students may have already intuited their strengths and made use of various “styles” of learning. Others, however, may have never had a good opportunity to understand that everyone learns a little differently, and that merely reading and re-reading a chapter may not be the best use of their study time.
VARK results are also kept as a part of each student’s profile. As the didactic year continues, such information gives academic advisors knowledge on which to promote self-improvement if a student begins to falter. Their VARK information is available to provide immediate context and enhance insights about aligning with the student’s main strengths. Showing a student a “better” way to study, based on their own cognitive talents, is only one of many ways in which we can quickly and efficiently help our PA students succeed.
It is a common belief among faculty and administration that graduate-level students should already have mastered study skills on their own, and that it is hardly our duty to teach them “how to learn.” However, we believe this is a matter of mentoring and responsibility. After screening, we accepted these students into the program. We therefore have a social and moral responsibility to ensure they are successful. We can embrace a learner-centered philosophy that ensures they have the skills that will be most helpful to their success. Remember, their success becomes our own, as test scores and graduation rates become available for review by prospective applicants, and our programs release excellent PAs into the medical workforce.