If ever there was an occasion that truly warranted use the phrase “well-deserved,” the current school break would have to be it. After all, I just successfully completed my first year of PA school. Yes, after one whole year and no less than 98 tests, I’m officially a second-year PA student!!! And although there are many people, things, activities, and foods to be credited for helping me get through the whirlwind first year of PA school without losing my sanity, right now I want to take a moment to really, truly appreciate the one thing that’s always been there for me: my backpack. Now, everyone who knows me reasonably well knows that I’m a private person, but I’m still so overjoyed about the fact I’ll be starting my clinical rotations soon (WOOHOO!!!) that I’m about to give you an intimate look at one of my most prized belongings…item by item, in every corner and compartment.

  • Laptop and a laptop bag: from taking tests to pulling up PowerPoint slides, my laptop is an absolutely essential item on school days. I actually bought a new laptop just in time for starting the PA program, and I can’t tell you how glad I am about that decision. My previous laptop was an old Toshiba model from almost a decade ago, and the first laptop I ever bought. I have a grey, canvass-y, zip-up laptop bag that’s kind of perfect for me, and the front pocket is big enough to fit earphones and the charger.
  • Plastic spoons and forks: I don’t cook, so I often bring frozen meals to school, and these plasticware is essential for obvious reasons!
  • Hand sanitiser: honestly, I keep one handy in the front pocket but I haven’t once used it. Could it be due to the trauma of wrecking my hands through constant hand washing when I was working in long-tem care facilities?
  • Subway coupons: I repeat—I don’t cook. Some days, I’d rather drive somewhere for my 1-hour lunch break than eat on campus. It tends to happen mostly when I have a scheduled or unexpected longer lunch break as well. Now, Subway and I go waaaay back, back to Australia, in fact. Ask any classmate, and they’ll tell you what my all-time favourite sub shop is!
  • Spare pens x 5: I usually keep one in my scrub pocket, but I can’t tell you how many times having these extra pens in my backpack came in handy.
  • Highlighters: minimum two colours, and they’re pretty much essential especially because I like to prepare hardcopies notes to review, write on, and highlight.
  • Snacks: ESSENTIAL. I have super metabolism, and need to snack at least once in the morning and once in the afternoon. For the last few years, I’ve really taken to those soft-baked bars with different toppings and/or fillings. I also like to pack swirl bread with peanut butter, which is typically my perfect morning snack.
  • Copy papers: since I’m a ‘printer,’ it’s crucial that I keep enough supplies in my locker, although now I’ll have to carry around more than usual in my backpack since we’ve vacated the lockers for the incoming students.

So that’s my backpack–the key to my self-care.

It’s been just over two weeks since I took the very last test of my first year, and I remember thinking that it would take a while for it to sink in. Right about now, it’s definitely sunk in. And although I keep busy with various projects and Mental Health First Aid trainings, it does feel like a holiday if only because I’m not studying for tests all the time (what a relief). I’m grateful for what I’ve been able to do in the first year, and look forward to seeing what the second year will bring…but NOT before I take a few more well-deserved days off!


  • Hwal Lee

    Thrive Global Campus Editor-at-Large from Radford University

    Hwal Lee is a community health PA and mental health advocate. Besides movies and boba tea, mental health education and outreach is his favourite hobby. Hwal completed his counsellor training in Australia, and is a nationally certified Adult and Youth Mental Health First Aid instructor in the U.S. He may have recently graduated, but learning must go on.