Master’s Student in the Physician Assistant Program
I grew up in Queens, New York. I studied Biology and Pre-Medical sciences at Boston College. I always knew I wanted to work in the healthcare field so I split my time volunteering as an EMT and working in a Cellular Biology research lab during my undergraduate education. My friend had just become a Physician Assistant at the time. We often studied together and I would ask him questions about what he was learning. I seemed to gravitate towards the profession and to be sure I decided to shadow a PA. I quickly decided that was what I wanted to do. After college I obtained a job as a Medical Assistant to gain some clinical experience required for graduate school. 1.5 years later I applied to graduate schools in several different states. Ironically, I found that BU was the best fit for me. Boston felt like the right city to obtain my clinical experience, having already worked in two of its major hospitals. Now I’m halfway through my last year at the BU PA Program and I know I made the right choice. When I’m not studying, I like to spend my free time playing beach volleyball in the summer or snowboarding in the winter.
Is there a person or experience in your life that inspired you to pursue a higher degree in education?
Yes there are multiple people in my life that inspire me – mostly my parents. My mom was born in Ecuador and she came to the U.S. for better opportunities. My dad was a first generation himself. His parents were born in Puerto Rico and also brought him here. He grew up in Harlem, NY and became a police officer. I know that my parents worked really hard to get to where they are right now and to give me the opportunities that they couldn’t have themselves as children. They were my main inspiration to go to college and graduate school. I knew I always wanted to be in the healthcare field because of my grandfather. He was a doctor in Ecuador. So, I saw the way he worked with patients and the way people regarded him. He was very smart and incredibly kind. I always thought I would do something similar to him. I would go to Ecuador every year with my mom when I was little and I would often sit in his office and watch him see patients.
Why did you make the decision to go the PA route versus the MD route?
I knew I wanted to do something in healthcare since I was a kid. I’m the type of person that needs to explore all my options before I bind myself to one thing. In college I spent a lot of time exploring different health professions. I was a volunteer EMT, I shadowed doctors, and I conducted research in a research lab just to see what I liked and what I didn’t like.
At the same time, the PA profession was still kind of evolving and making a name for itself. One of my close friends was just finishing up his Physician Assistant degree back in New York, and he and I would often get together and study – me studying my undergraduate courses and him studying his graduate courses. I saw what he was learning and I would always ask him questions. I appreciated how much he learned from such a condensed graduate program compared to how long an MD career typically takes. I decided to shadow a PA myself and I spent my last year in college shadowing a PA in Primary Care. I loved everything about the profession. I loved how much time she had with patients, how much she knew from her two years of study in graduate school, and I loved how she collaborated with physicians and nurses around her. I ended up getting a job when I graduated as a Medical Assistant and I worked under a Physician Assistant who also taught me a lot. Then I knew that the PA profession was for me. I wanted to get into school, learn as much as I could, start working and continue learning throughout my career. All the PAs I’ve met have been so generous, happy and forthcoming to me. I want to do that for someone else. I know that’s where I want to be.
Is there a particular area of medicine that you are interested in going into?
I’m interested in trauma and critical care. It’s a specialty in health care that combines surgery and medicine. My first experience in this specialty was a couple of months ago on my trauma surgery rotation when I rotated in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). A lot of patients came to us acutely sick, having had some kind of accident or surgical emergency. I found that I liked being in the ICU and learning about critical care interventions. You’re with a patient, you’re managing multiple things at once – their electrolyte imbalances, their hemoglobin levels, their medications – and it’s little fluctuations that you’re looking for and keeping an eye on. I found that to be rewarding. When a patient does get better and you discharge them from the critical care floor to the step down unit, and then into the medical unit, it’s pretty rewarding to see their progress and recovery. I learned a lot about how much I can handle in terms of working long hours and managing critically ill patients. The reality is that not everyone gets better and you have to accept your limitations. You have to continue with the medical knowledge and resources that you have in trying to best help them and provide comfortability, both to the patient and to their families. There are limitations to what everyone can do, but it is surprising to see what your patients and the human body is capable of as well.
What’s the most interesting experience you’ve had while in graduate school?
Last year I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico on a medical mission trip with seven of my classmates. We went to Puerto Peñasco, Mexico and set up free health clinics in local communities. We worked alongside local physicians to provide physical exams and medications to families without health insurance. It was a great experience because not only did we get to do something good for this community that had very poor access to healthcare, we ourselves got to learn about the healthcare system in Mexico. This was a great opportunity to strengthen my history taking and physical exam skills. A lot of patients had rare infections that we would be unlikely to see in the United States. The local Mexican doctors oversaw our exams and asked us what we thought the patient had. They provided a valuable learning experience for us volunteers. We also got to meet a lot of the local community members and they were so grateful to have us there. It was a pretty rewarding experiencing.
Have you encountered any unexpected challenges in graduate school? If so, how did you overcome them?
I think it was a challenge to get back into studying after having a break between undergrad and graduate school. Getting back into the thick of things, giving up social activities to study and managing an increased course load is a challenge at first. You also get into that rabbit hole of comparing yourself to your classmates when learning difficult topics. I realized quickly that this was not the best way to approach a graduate career. My advice to others would be: instead of comparing yourself to your peers, it’s better to work with your classmates and learn from each other. You surprise yourself because there’s things you know that you can teach them in a way that will always remain engraved in their minds. Similarly, there are things that they can teach you that you’ll never forget – for an exam, for practice, or for life. Plus, it’s fun to study in groups and you become one another’s support system.
What advice would you give to an undergraduate interested in pursuing a PA career?
I would tell them to definitely shadow a PA and understand what the profession is about. Get yourself involved in medicine as early as you can, whatever job it may be. Clinical experience is important and it’s so valuable when you finally start graduate school. It’s a great thing to already understand how to talk to and empathize with patients even if you don’t have the medical skills to help them yet.
Also, to challenge yourself and ask questions whenever you’re in a learning experience or meeting someone with years of experience in the field that interests you. This is your time to learn and to capture as much as you can, both for when you’re working and when you actually get into graduate school. Just be as open and eager to learn from others about the profession and about caring for patients as much as you can.
What’re your favorite things to do in Boston?
My favorite thing about Boston is that it’s so close to the state parks and a lot of recreation opportunities. I like to snowboard, so I often go out to the mountains in New Hampshire and Vermont. Even an hour outside the Greater Boston area, there are some fun mountains. In the summer there’s also so much to do, and I like to spend my days hiking or camping. Within Boston I love going to the Arnold Arboretum and running along the Charles River.