One of the keys to making it through the didactic year in the Wake Forest PA program is understanding the difference between memorizing and learning.
That’s according to Macy Mantooth, a first-year student who works as a tutor to help her peers learn more effectively. “A lot of people think they have to just memorize the information we’re presented with,” she said, “rather than integrating it into how we might use it clinically.”
Learning through memorization is a common approach in undergraduate academic work but may cause students to struggle when they reach PA school at Wake Forest. As a tutor in the Wake Forest PA peer tutoring program, Mantooth uses that philosophy to help her classmates.
“We get a lot of information from our different courses, like pharmacology, clinical and diagnostic skills, and foundations of medicine,” Mantooth continued. “Being able to take information from one of those courses and integrate it into what we’re learning in other courses is really important.”
Launched in January, the peer tutoring program allows first-year PA students who want help to get tutoring from their classmates. It was designed to help students who are struggling to adjust to the academic style of PA school, according to Tanya Gregory, who worked on developing the program.
“PA school is hard because there’s a lot of information coming at you very quickly,” Gregory said. “Sometimes the intensity of the experience is overwhelming. You have to learn how to learn a different way.”
Students who volunteer to serve as tutors have to qualify based on their grades, and are expected to spend between one and four hours per week with their students. The tutors are also paid for their time.
The program was set up as peer-to-peer to address some of the issues of past tutoring programs, Gregory said. “In the past we’ve used recent graduates from the program, and they would volunteer but then would have to quit because they took a new job or moved out of state,” she recalled. “It wasn’t a sustainable program.” Gregory believes this program is sustainable. “Tutors need an academic record that’s fairly solid, and they’re paid, so there’s an incentive,” she said, adding that students’ privacy is also important to the program. “They’re all classmates, but we ask tutors to keep things private.”
Though the program is only a few months old, it’s already showing early signs of success. Ten students were enrolled in the program, and all but one has shown marked increases in their grades.
In anonymous comments, students who have received tutoring have offered nothing but praise.
“(My tutor) has been amazing! She challenges me to think in ways that help my overall processing and enhance my active recall,” commented one student.
Another said, “The tutoring has helped me approach some of the overwhelming amount of material from this unit.”
The success of the program is gratifying to Gregory, because she views it as an important aspect of the Wake Forest PA program’s mission.
“We want to recruit and admit non-traditional students, including students from different backgrounds, who are older coming into this as a second career, who are disadvantaged, and military veterans,” she continued. “These are students who may not have the same academic skills as your traditional, 24-year-old college student, but they still can become excellent clinicians.”
Even traditional students need help sometimes. “Almost everybody struggles at some point,” Gregory said. “Peer tutoring is probably one of the most important forms of assistance we can offer.
Students aren’t the only ones who benefit from the tutoring program, however. According to Mantooth, she gets as much out of the experience as the student she tutors.
“Teaching something to another person is a way to study,” she said. “They'll ask questions, and you may or may not have the answer. And if you don't have the answer, you can work together to find it.”
Mantooth further believes the tutoring experience will be helpful as she and her peers enter their clinical year, and ultimately when they become practicing PAs. “Being a PA is a very collaborative job,” she added “It's teaching us to collaborate and work together to find solutions and find answers.” But most importantly, Mantooth said she just enjoys helping a classmate in need. “It’s super fulfilling,” she said.
With the success of the program, Gregory is eyeing continuing it and expanding it. “The feedback has been very positive, and I’m hoping to expand it to encompass the clinical year, as well,” she concluded.
The results of the peer tutoring program might be best captured by one anonymous student’s comments: “This program is such a great idea. I really hope future students can have this opportunity!”