A Day in the Life of a Physician Assistant Student on Rotations

Touro student Ryan Vo’s winding career in health care has traveled from EMT to paramedic to physician assistant—from prehospital to primary care.

November 03, 2023
Student in white coat smiling

My name is Ryan Vo, a third year Physician Assistant (PA) student and I've always been interested in medicine.

After graduating from college, one of my friends who had just completed Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) school suggested I give it a try. He thought it would allow me to get my foot in the door in the medical field and interact with different healthcare professionals to see what I liked. I thought it was a great idea, so after a short 3-month program, I became an EMT.

I started working on the ambulance doing Basic Life Support (BLS) transports which was interesting, but I wanted to do more. So, I applied to work on the 911 emergency side which was even more engaging. That experience led me to become a paramedic so I could take on more responsibility and make more critical decisions. During patient transfers to the ER, I met PAs who were always welcoming and seemed to really enjoy their careers. It made me feel like becoming a PA would be a natural next step for me.

Working as a paramedic was intense—we saw and did difficult things. In the prehospital setting, it's all about split second, life-saving decisions. I loved it, but the compensation and physical/emotional stress over time didn't seem sustainable long-term. I wanted to think about where I'd be in 5 or 10 years, and it just didn't align with my vision.

Now I'm in my third year of PA school at Touro University California and am currently in my clinical rotations. Everyone has slightly different rotation experience based on their background and personality as well as their preceptor's. In a primary care clinic, I typically work Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm since I follow my preceptor's schedule.

I like to get up early and workout before my shift. I find that it is easier to workout before a shift rather than after a long one that requires the ultimate focus and concentration. At the clinic, we wear either scrubs or business casual. When I arrive, I set up at my desk, review the schedule, and discuss the plan for the day. Towards the beginning of a rotation, I see patients alongside my preceptor. But over time, as I demonstrate my skills, they let me work more independently.

When I see patients, I introduce myself, take their history, perform a physical exam, develop a differential diagnosis and determine what labs or tests we need. Then I present to my preceptor and we finalize the plan and review my chart together. After my shift ends around 6pm, I go home, make dinner, try to relax a bit and study if I have the mental energy. It's hard after a long day so even just an hour is helpful and productive.

I'm really enjoying the continuity of care I get to provide as a PA student and future provider. In Emergency Medical Services, you rarely find out what happens to the patients you transport. But now I get to see their progression over weeks and time, which is incredibly rewarding. My EMT/paramedic work absolutely helped prepare me for patient interaction and understanding how to handle stressful situations. I'm grateful for that foundation as I continue this journey to becoming a practicing PA.