Nicole Ludwig (DPAS '23)
It’s Never Too Late, Right?
When I began to consider a return to graduate school as a working professional, so many questions rushed to my mind (and so much self-doubt, too): Do I have the time? Can I afford it? Is it worth it? Can I do it?
I graduated with my master’s degree nine years ago. Nine years is a long time to be out of the swing of taking exams, meeting deadlines, writing papers, etc. Having been a preceptor and educator myself, I was nervous about being a student again when I enrolled in the SHRS Doctor of Physician Assistant Studies (DPAS) online program. Six months into the one-year program, I feel like I am finally adjusting to my new normal and I want to share what I’ve learned.
Lean on Your Classmates
The DPAS program is comprised of students like me: full-time clinicians with busy personal lives. We’ve all been out of school for quite some time and share many of the same personal and professional obstacles. Connecting with your classmates informally is a great way to decompress, help each other and reflect upon some common anxieties. Our class created a Facebook group and it has been incredibly helpful. Sometimes it’s easy to isolate yourself as an adult learner in an online program that does not hold in-person classes. Having a way to connect with folks in the same situation in a relaxed (and school-free) environment does wonders for one’s mental health.
I consider myself a fairly organized individual, but jumping back into keeping up with readings, lectures and hard-and-fast due dates was a bit jarring. I find it helpful to create a routine and set aside time on particular days each week to focus on my schoolwork, such as Wednesday afternoons and Sunday mornings. I also write out assignment due dates and course expectations, by hand, on a physical calendar. I know it’s “old school,” but it helps to visually see what I need to do in one image as opposed to clicking through each module of each course on a learning management system.
Prepare Your Support System
When you return to college as an adult, it’s not just you who must adjust to a big life change, it’s everyone close to you. It means fewer date nights with your significant other, missed sporting events with your kids and rain checks on plans with friends. When I was in PA school, I was used to missing special events. “I can’t, I’m in PA school” became my life motto. The abundance of free time I had since completing my master’s nine years ago and then returning to work has been challenging to give up. My busy new schedule has required a solid support system. Consider your friends and family as this support system now, perhaps as they had been for you in school previously. Set clear expectations with them in advance. Let them know that you want to spend time with them, but sometimes you’ll miss out on things because of your school commitments. Remind them that this is only temporary and lean on their support to continue forward.
Remember Your Motivation
Maybe you have returned to school to obtain a leadership position in your place of work or to achieve a higher salary. Perhaps it’s a mid-life career change because you’re unhappy in your current field or it’s just to prove to yourself that you have what it takes to rise to a challenge. Whatever your motivation is to return to college, verbalize it to yourself every day. Every. Day. Identify what it is that's motivating you. Make it your rallying cry when you start to feel discouraged or anxious, or when you get tired and wonder why you chose to introduce these new challenges into your safe routine. Remind yourself of all the obstacles you’ve already overcome in your life and envision the positive effects that this degree will have on your life once it is complete. You can do this!
Nicole Ludwig (DPAS '23)
Director of Clinical Education and Assistant Professor within the Physician Assistant Program at Seton Hill University
Published November 18, 2022
Updated January 4, 2024