How to Osmose Through PA School

Jul 24, 2019 by Drew Chapman

A physician assistant shares their perspective and tips on using Osmosis while attending PA school with two goals in mind.  

Physician assistant (PA) students and medical students are more similar than they are different. Both are expected to have a solid understanding of a wide range of complex topics ranging from basic science and clinical medicine to diagnostic reasoning and procedural skills. Both are expected to develop this knowledge rapidly, to retain it more or less indefinitely, and to be able to synthesize and apply it appropriately in a variety of clinical scenarios. Following from these expectations, both are under tremendous pressure to manage their time efficiently and develop study strategies that result in both short- and long-term retention. 

Coming to terms with these demands, and often with the realization that one’s undergraduate study habits are inadequate to the task of meeting them, can be a tremendous shock at the advent of one’s medical education. It certainly was for me. But Osmosis, despite being primarily a resource for medical students at the time, saved me in PA school. I spent the better part of my first semester trying to figure out how best to achieve two goals: 

  1. Study efficiently

  2. Maximize retention

With the help of Osmosis, I was able to accomplish both. 

Studying efficiently

Like medical school, PA school is divided into didactic and clinical stages, though unlike in medical school, each is typically only one year long. The overarching challenge of didactic year was that of learning anatomy, pathophysiology, epidemiology, clinical presentation, patient assessment, diagnosis, and therapeutic management for all body systems and medical specialties in twelve months. Efficient use of study time was essential. I had access to a wealth of review books and e-texts, lectures, videos, online databases, apps, podcasts, and question banks. However, I found that, as Giuliano Scaini points out in his blog post How to Succeed Using the Osmosis Study Schedule, the sheer multiplicity of such resources can become a problem in and of itself, and one of the best pieces of advice a new PA or medical student can receive is to choose a handful of trusty, go-to study tools and stick with them, rather than poring over every possible resource every time one sits down to study. Because it offered high-quality, high-yield content and a variety of study tools, Osmosis quickly became one of my primary resources.

After some trial and error, I found a study system that worked well for me. My PA program taught clinical medicine in blocks separated by body system, with some specialty-specific blocks for infectious disease, pediatrics, surgery, and emergency medicine as well. At the beginning of each block I would check the syllabus for a topic list, look up each topic on Osmosis, and watch the video on it. The videos were short enough to enable me to cover many topics quickly, while being high-yield enough to be effective resources. After watching the video on a given topic, I would browse the flashcards and practice questions and add those that I thought were most relevant to my queue. I would also make my own flash cards, customized to include information that I or my professors thought particularly important. Throughout the block, as I attended lectures and delved deeper into the material, I would continually reinforce key topics using these flashcards through the Osmosis smartphone app. The adaptive algorithm ensured I didn’t waste much time on things I already knew well, while drilling me more frequently on topics I hadn’t yet mastered. The push notifications reminded me to take brief opportunities throughout the day to do a few cards, further increasing my efficiency. At the end of each block, I would go back to the videos, this time for a rapid review, and then move on to practice questions from the Osmosis question bank prior to my exam. After a few weeks of using this process, I had fallen into a comfortable rhythm that sustained me through didactic year. 

Maximizing retention

I knew as a new PA student that long-term retention of knowledge would be critical to success. It was important to me to not only perform well on my exams, but also to build and continually reinforce a solid foundation of medical knowledge, so as to facilitate a more thorough understanding of advanced content in later classes as well as to strengthen my clinical reasoning as a practitioner in the future. I had learned a bit about the science of learning (including the importance of spaced repetition from various medical blogs and podcasts prior to PA school, and understood that the most effective, evidence-based learning strategies would be predicated on research in this field. That Osmosis is run by people who understand and appreciate these strategies was a key factor in my becoming a Prime member early on, and the algorithmic spaced repetition of Osmosis flashcards was a game changer for me in particular. It continually dug up important information from earlier blocks that I was about to forget, allowing me to practice active retrieval and so strengthening my ability to access what I had learned. This not only prepared me very well for my exams, which were cumulative, it also paved the way for success during clinical year, through which I continued to utilize Osmosis to study new topics and rapidly review old ones. 

After graduation I scored very well on the PANCE national certifying exam, thanks in large part to the strong foundation of core medical knowledge that Osmosis helped me to build, maintain, and reinforce throughout my education. For new PA or medical students searching for a solid resource that employs evidence-based strategies to increase both studying efficiency and long-term retention, I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

About Drew

Drew is a recent graduate of the Bay Path University Physician Assistant Program Class of 2019 and a newly-certified PA-C. He will be starting his career in emergency medicine in the fall, and in the meantime plans to enjoy the summer reading, gardening, hiking, and playing poker.