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PA students dance like nobody’s stressing

Physician assistant students took part in a unique pre-finals class “exercise” last week, testing their physiological reactions to relaxation activities: exercise, fresh air, music and meditation.

Prior to a “dance-off” that included such classics as “The Electric Slide,” the chicken dance and the “Macarena,” the students discussed how they were feeling about their impending finals and measured their pulse and heart rate.

Students start the dance-off with “The Electric Slide.”
Students start the dance-off with “The Electric Slide.”

The students repeated the measurements just after dancing, then participated in a relaxation exercise and took the measurements a third time.

The activity was part of the final class of the semester for students in Julie I. Edkin’s Pathophysiology II course and grew from a habit the class formed throughout the semester.

Student Damaris A. Diaz checks her vitals using a pulse oximeter.
Student Damaris A. Diaz checks her vitals using a pulse oximeter.

The class was scheduled 2-4 p.m. on Tuesdays, after the students had already sat through other classes from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“I get them, and there’s nothing fun about pathophysiology – unless you’re a patho nerd like me,” Edkin said.

So each week at the beginning of class, she attempted to reenergize the group by turning on music and having them dance for three minutes. Soon, even the shyest in the class were taking part.

The class covers the fundamental principles of cellular and molecular functions. As part of that learning, the students learned about stress hormones and their effects on the body. (For example, adrenaline, a stress hormone, makes muscles tighten and causes increased sensitivity to pain, while oxytocin and endorphins have the opposite effect.)

Dancing is followed by a relaxation activity.
Dancing is followed by a relaxation activity.

The day’s lesson provided a real-life application of some of the advice they’ll be giving patients.

“We’re always being told to get sunshine and exercise, but our entire lives consist of sitting on our butts and studying. Today we actually got to come out and do what we tell our patients to do,” explained student Sarah M. Heidler, of West Milton.

“It was nice to take an alternative medicine approach such as yoga, meditation and listening to your favorite music, as compared to what we typically learn in the classroom, which is more about medication,” said Bryan M. Bilbao, a PA student from Old Forge.

Gabrielle E. Moore joins classmates in the “Macarena.”
Gabrielle E. Moore joins classmates in the “Macarena.”

“We’ve been trying to teach and preach preventative medicine,” Edkin added. “If you can stay well, both mentally and physically, you can prevent a lot of problems.”

To promote their own wellness, she said she advises students at least take a minute to breathe deeply, and to unplug and get sleep rather than pulling all-nighters, because even they do retain some information while burning the midnight oil, being tired on test day will make it more difficult to recall it during the exam.

The dance-off allowed the students to experience the value of that advice.

“It’s a way to not sit there and stare at books and feel frustrated,” said student Connie J. Plankenhorn, of Williamsport.

“We had a really good discussion session when we went back inside,” Edkin said afterward. “It was a good time to reflect, and all agreed that fitting stress-relieving activities into their study schedules is now a priority. All were full of smiles and positive energy as they went home.”