Western University of Health Sciences


PANCE in a Pandemic

Wendy Lewis

PA-C, MSPA Alumna 2020

Last year, I had it all planned out. First, I would start diligently reviewing for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) as soon as my program ended. Second, my 10-year old son, Rome, would be back in school by early August; I would be able to study while he was in school, take a break for family responsibilities, and return to study for a few more hours until bedtime. I thought I had the perfect plan. What could go wrong? However, COVID-19 would have other plans for me and the world!

On March 13, Los Angeles County shut down its school districts. I was nervous because I was in my ER rotation that month and had no one who could take care of my little guy. I had already asked my husband to take numerous days off from work in the past year-and-a-half, and I just did not dare to ask him for more. A few hours later, our program’s rotations director contacted me to let me know that my rotation was also canceled. “Whew! What a relief!” I thought. Yes, a relief. When you are a mom, especially with a special needs child, his or her needs come before anything. I knew I’d figure the rest out, but for now, I needed to be home with my child to make sure he was mentally and physically safe.

The next few months were filled with both of us navigating Zoom and Google Classroom as my son and I sat side-by-side on what used to be our dinner table. There we sat for 7 hours daily, trying to finish all the requirements our schools asked of us. We were both new at this, but we were together. Several months later, my husband, who works at a military base, was also asked to work from home. “Join the party,” I said, as I slid over some books to make space for him.

I was able to return to rotations in June and complete my clinical hours. Just as I was beginning to get myself into PANCE prep mode, my husband received a call to return to work on the exact date that my last rotation ended. Immediately, I knew it was time to write yet another new plan.

I began by printing out two calendars, one for me and one for Rome. His calendar had all of his classes, the times, and assignments due. My calendar was a 7-week plan on organ systems, starting with those in which I was weakest. My days were filled with sitting next to Rome making sure that he was doing his work, that he was taking sensory breaks, and that he was not being silly on camera. I could not step away for even a minute to try and study. Like most kids, he would find a way to miss something, or I’d walk past his bedroom and find him lying on his bed. So, I focused on helping him first. In the afternoons, I would shift over to my study material and start by doing 60 practice questions to get my brain into learning mode. Then came reviewing my class notes, PANCE review books, and more practice questions. The days were long, sometimes 12-15 hours of putting my brain to use. There were times when I had to pace the room while reviewing, so that I wouldn’t fall asleep. Walking helped keep the blood flowing to my brain and kept my back from aching from so much sitting.

Seven weeks of preparation felt like preparing for a marathon. I planned everything, from trying out different foods I should eat on test day, to experimenting how much water drinking was just enough, to deciding how I would schedule my breaks during the test, to wearing a mask for 5 hours straight. I sat for the PANCE as ready as I could be. A few days later, I received the news that I had passed my board exam. I thanked Rome for helping me stay on top of my schedule, and we celebrated by making hot cocoa and brown sugar oatmeal for breakfast!