The Physician Assistant Life

The #1 Trait that Determines Long Term Success as a Physician Assistant

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. -Sir Winston Churchill

I've come to realize that it’s not the best genetics, the highest GPA, or the most pertinent health care experience that produces the most success... especially when it comes to being a PA or trying to become one.

It comes down to one key word.


What the Hell is “Grit”?

Kid tennis

No, not grits like in My Cousin Vinny.

Grit is defined as: “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

There we go.

More and more research is coming out that shows in school, work, and in life, intelligence is no longer the greatest predictor of success.  It’s grit and character – the ability to push through adversity, challenges, and setbacks to find a new solution or path to success.

Angela Duckworth, Psychology Professor at University of Pennsylvania, has found through her research that:

“Smarter students actually had less grit than their peers who scored lower on an intelligence test. This finding suggests that, among the study participants — all students at an Ivy League school — people who are not as bright as their peers ‘compensate by working harder and with more determination.’ And their effort pays off: The grittiest students — not the smartest ones — had the highest GPAs.”

She also discovered that:

“At the elite United States Military Academy, West Point, a cadet’s grit score was the best predictor of success in the rigorous summer training program known as “Beast Barracks.” Grit mattered more than intelligence, leadership ability or physical fitness.

At the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the grittiest contestants were the most likely to advance to the finals — at least in part because they studied longer, not because they were smarter or were better spellers.”

These findings suggest that the achievement of difficult goals entails not only talent but also the sustained and focused application of talent over time.

Last week in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman published an article that I couldn’t agree with more: “Need a job? Invent one!”  In this article, he references Harvard Education Specialist Tony Wagner, “Today, because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know.”

So what does all this science and job talk have to do with A Physician Assistant Life, getting into PA school, or becoming a Physician Assistant by design?  After all, it’s simple, right?  Get good grades, make sure you have the prerequisite health care experience and work hard, right?

As we all know too well, there is so much more to having long term success that goes beyond getting good marks and finding health care experience that looks good on an application.  It’s not how much information we know, but what we actually DO with that information that will determine our success.

Or, in wanna be PA terms, success is going from a blog reader to an action taker. 

Instead of knowing all of the answers, instead of chasing the perfect health care job to pass the time, or waiting to write that perfect essay, people who succeed get started. And then they stick with it.

My Tale of Grit


I am proud to say that I am on a better road to being proud, confident and strong. 

but it wasn't always that way

I was cut from my high school basketball team for my size and lack of an outside shot. I was told by my grandmother as I left for college in Seattle that I was being "selfish and not thinking of the family".  I was told by my college guidance counselor that I would never have the grades to make it as a medical professional. I have struggled from time to time with depression and low self esteem.

It wasn't until I adjusted my goals, changed my major and started to belive in myself that I finally started to have success. From that point on, it was another six years of incremental improvements, setbacks, adjustments, and research that led to small changes and new tactics.  I imagine I’ll spend the rest of my life learning more, failing more, and trying to discover new ways to improve myself

To some, this might sound boring or daunting.  

However, I discovered that it is fascinating and encouraging to see improvement from week to week, no matter how small they are, to make a difference in peoples lives, to adjust my focus from one of self to "what can I do today to make somebody else's life better".

“Boring” became exciting, instead of blaming the world for what I didn't have I became thankful for all the wonderful blessings I did have. 

I fell in love with small changes and small wins adding up to big transformations.

Instead of saying, “ugh, I have to study, or ugh I have to work out (another passion of mine),” it’s become “I wonder what I’m capable of today? 

Somewhere early in the second half of my journey to a PA life, I decided I wanted to help others feel that same excitement without having to make all of the same rookie mistakes I made during my six years of discovery;  I wanted to help beginners see progress and build momentum and confidence from day one.

This project is part of this mission. 

I’ve learned that grit CAN be developed, and once you have it in one area of your life, it carries over to others

Developing "True Grit"

True Grit Posters

When I moved past my initial goal of becoming an MD I didn't realize it at the time, what I was doing was identifying the new “normal” and the new “identity” I wanted for myself.

Then I proved that this new identity was actually a future possibility with teeny tiny small wins, building momentum, developing more grit and perseverance.

Here’s how you can develop grit yourself:

1) Identify the new “identity” you want to have. The more specific you can be with it, the easier it’ll be to prove it to yourself. “I’m the type of person that never misses a lecture.”  ”I’m somebody who hardly ever misses a workout.” “I’m somebody who works on gaining health care experience and meeting my prerequisites every day.”  Remind yourself of this EVERY day by hanging up a post-it note on your bathroom window, or using your phone/calendar to keep this at the front of your mind.

2) Prove to yourself you can do it with small wins.  Create a teeny tiny benchmark for yourself to show that you are heading in the right direction.  Make it something you can do every day, that takes less than 15 minutes. 5 minutes is even better.  Build the habit.

3) Build momentum by completing the small win every day for at least 30 days.  Remember we have limited willpower, so dump all of it into building this one habit.

4) Once you have established your new “normal,” it’s time to stretch again.  Constantly adjust your new normal, but make the adjustment small so it’s not a drastic adjustment.  Slow and steady for the win!

5) If you fail at something, make sure you fail differently next time. Failing is not a reflection on your character. You’re simply crossing something off your list that didn’t work. Move onward and upward.

Physician Assistant Grits

tortis and hari

Rule #1 : It doesn't matter where you came from, only where you’re going.

This is why I love meeting people and receiving emails from prospective PAs or practicing PAs.  These are people like you and me: normal folks with normal lives and normal problems.  They may not have healthcare experience, they may be deciding between various healthcare careers,  they may not understand what a PA does.  Or maybe they are a PA student or a practicing PA who worked hard but didn't pass their PANCE or PANRE. Maybe they have tried every tactic out there and struggled to find success for a long time.  Then, for whatever reason, that light bulb went off in their head and they were encouraged to try something different:

  • Joe failed his PANCE: He reached out to those who had been successful, purchased a new review book,  focused on completing questions every day and then took a lot of practice tests. He is now working full time as an orthopedic Physician Assistant.
  • Staci didn't get into PA school on her first 3 tries: Now she is a 2nd year PA student who is looking forward to graduating head of her class and starting a career in family practice medicine.
  • Ryan didn't know how how was going to pay for PA school.  He applied for the National Health Service Corps and was accepted after his second try. Now he gets a monthly stipend and will fulfill his dream of working in an undeserved population.

These guys didn't set out to drastically change their life, but they knew it was a possibility.  They just focused on small wins, building momentum, and building a new normal for themselves.  As a result of that, these men and women are forever changed.

My goal with The PA-Life is to help you build grit and momentum.  I've seen it happen with hundreds of people, and it all starts with one thing: the first step.

This is a challenging journey, but one I hope you’re willing to take. There’s no doubt in my mind you have it in you to become the passionate and caring healthcare provider you see in yourself, and I look forward to the day when you start to believe it too. Prove it to yourself.

Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you can’t accomplish something.  

My dad, always said this, and it is true: “excuses are like armpits, everyone has them and they all stink.

Tell me one small victory you've had recently and one small change you’re going to make, or drop me a line and tell me what you need help with. 


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