Essential Supplies for a PA Student

Rounding out your kit with quality practice models

Role of practice models in a PA program

You’ve put in years of hard work, jumped through all the essential hoops to apply, and now have your letter of acceptance to a Physician Assistant (PA) program in hand! As of 2017-18 only 32% of applicants to a PA program go on to become a student in a program [1]. 

Most, if not all, programs will provide you with a list of required medical tools needed. This typically includes a quality stethoscope, otoscope/ophthalmoscope set, pen light, tuning fork, blood pressure cuff, and more [2]. Some programs will suggest particular brands while others will work with medical device companies to assemble a kit for students to purchase. These tools will create the foundation of your medical bag. You will be able to use them while practicing new skills in labs and once you are working with patients in a live setting. 

While each program, and even each professor within a program, approaches their instruction and labs a bit differently, there are some practices, skills, and procedures that are commonly taught across all programs. To excel at these, repeated practice is critical. There are a number of training tools and models that can be essential for building and mastering these skills throughout your PA program, ensuring continuous practice and development over time.

Suturing procedures and models

During the course of any PA program, a range of suturing techniques are introduced. Some of the most common techniques taught focus on superficial sutures (e.g., simple interrupted, simple continuous, vertical mattress, etc.) and subcutaneous sutures. In all cases, learners benefit from repetition. One study found that while self-directed learning is common in many types of medical training programs, students who haven’t yet repetitively practiced a skill tend to overestimate the quality of their techniques. Only after practice can students recognize accurate technical skills and begin to truly learn and improve [3]. This means that as a PA student, tools that let you practice suturing over and over are essential to success. 

SurgiReal’s 6-layer suture kit is designed to hold up to this level of repetition, allowing you to achieve the level of practice needed to become proficient in suturing skills with just one tool. Having 6 layers ensures you have both the space and depth needed to perform the range of sutures and multi-layer closures taught in labs. In fact, the kit provides enough durable material for 1500 practice stitches, making it likely that you can continue to use the same pad to fine-tune your skills once you are employed. 

Included in the 6-layer suture kit are a disposable scalpel, tissue forceps, stitch scissors, and a needle holder. The instruments are made to last as long as the suture pads, meaning the scalpel won’t dull rapidly, the scissors won’t get sticky, and the forceps grip comfortably.  Additionally, these instruments are larger than those provided in many other kits, making them easier to use and ensuring that you don’t develop bad habits as you practice your suturing skills. 

Incision & drainage procedures and models

Incision and drainage procedures are incredibly common in real-world settings and, as such, are often practiced in the lab as well. Many programs practice these procedures using make-shift, low-fidelity options such as chicken thighs with a filled balloon under the skin. While this can be beneficial at the introductory stage, more lifelike models allow for situated learning. This means that in addition to practicing the actual incision, a learner also has the opportunity to practice being aware of limited spaces and other important contextual details. This increases learner confidence and satisfaction [4]. For incision and drainage procedures, SurgiReal’s I&D pad consists of a 5-layer tissue pad with a cyst and simulated abscess embedded within it. This allows you to practice abscess drainage/closure, cyst removal/closure, and suturing. This particular tool is as close to lifelike as one can get without practicing on a patient, making it a great addition to your kit. 

Ingrown toenail procedures and models

Ingrown toenails are another common ailment in the field, and professors often ask students to practice both digital blocks and toenail removals. However, finding quality materials that simulate these scenarios in a lifelike way is always a challenge. It’s not unheard of for professors to supply students with a hot dog for practice, which is unrealistic from both a shape and texture perspective. SurgiReal’s Ingrown Toenail Simulator allows you to skip the hot dog; it includes a toenail that is ingrown on both sides and comes in a pack of 3, allowing for extra repetition outside of class.

Rounding out your list of supplies for the PA program

As part of your experience in a PA program, your professors will introduce a number of common procedures and skills that you will be expected to learn, such as suturing wounds, draining incisions, and removing ingrown toenails. Adding practice models to your list of essential equipment ensures you will have the tools to practice and master these skills. 

References

[1] Physician Assistant Education Association. (2020). The PA Pipeline to Practice: applicant and matriculant data from CASPA. PAEA. https://paeaonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/paea-presentation-caspa-20200106.pdf

[2] University of Kentucky. (nd). Instrument list for new students. University of Kentucky. https://www.uky.edu/chs/sites/chs.uky.edu/files/PAS/New%20student%20Instrument%20list%20and%20letter.pdf

[3] Hu, Y., Kim, H., Mahmutovic, A. et al. (2015). Verification of accurate technical insight: a prerequisite for self-directed surgical training. Advances in Health Science Education, 20, 181–191. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10459-014-9519-3

[4] Langebæk, R., Berendt, M., Pedersen, L., Jensen, A., & Eika, B. (2012). Features that contribute to the usefulness of low-fidelity models for surgical skills training. The Veterinary record. 170, 361. https://doi.org/10.1136/vr.100181