Hey all- I am very close to pressing submit on my application. Just continuing to agonize a bit over my personal statement. I appreciate any input, and I am happy to return the favor!
Four thirteen-year old sets of eyes are staring anticipatedly at me. I am in a classroom 7000 miles away from home, holding a drawing of the female reproductive system and explaining the importance of maintaining proper feminine hygiene. I am not sure where the teacher who is meant to be helping with this lesson is to be found; I am alone, quite outside of my comfort zone, and fighting not to show it. In moments like this, I wonder whether I am making a difference. I hope, at least for these four girls, the answer is yes.
In 2017, I deviated from my plans to apply to physician assistant school. I had spent the last year and a half preparing myself to apply: finishing my bachelor’s degree, completing pre-requisites and working erratic hours as a phlebotomist. At the same time, however, I was completing an application to serve in the Peace Corps and was thrilled when I received an invitation to serve as a clinic volunteer in Botswana, a southern African nation heavily affected by the HIV epidemic. I was unsure when or whether such an exhilarating and unique opportunity would ever come to me again, so I seized it.
A desire to become a PA and an enthusiasm for community service are two passions which entered my life separately but became entwined, reinforcing each other positively. During college, I volunteered at my university’s hospital, helping with inventory and stocking for the telemetry unit. I saw people who were receiving some of the most advanced healthcare on the planet, but who were still quite ill, and often suffering. There, I learned the difference between illness and suffering. Illness is clinical, whereas suffering is when psychological well-being has been affected and often occurs when patients feel lonely and isolated when hospitalized for long periods or when they have chronic medical conditions. I wanted the proper training so I could do more to alleviate both.
I researched provider roles, both online and through direct contact, and decided that the role of a PA aligned well with what I wished to do. After graduation, I began working as a phlebotomist to increase my exposure to healthcare settings. I enjoyed the fast-paced environment of working in a hospital and the gratification that came with successfully drawing blood from self-identified “tough sticks.” I also learned what it meant to be the persona non grata to patients; no one ever likes having blood drawn, but this experience taught me patient empathy and how to teach through what I was doing to calm nervous patients.
In addition to working at the hospital and taking additional coursework at a community college, I also shadowed a physician assistant, Matt. He worked at a primary care office in a nearby town. I greatly admired the rapport between Matt and his patients. He enjoyed working with patients that other caregivers thought were a nuisance and exaggerative in their health complaints. He listened to them, though, and knew them not just for the symptoms and diagnoses on their charts but for who they were as people. He remembered details from the conversations they had the last time they were together and inquired about friends and family members they had mentioned, letting them know he was actively listening and genuinely cared. Matt became my inspiration for becoming a PA and a model for treating the whole patient and not just their symptoms.
When I realized I wanted to join the Peace Corps instead of applying directly to PA programs, I was unsure if I was taking a detour or an entirely different path. I knew I would not be the same person after two years. I remember wondering before leaving if the same conviction to become a PA would remain with when I returned. However, I can now say with the utmost certainty that Peace Corps service has deepened my desire to become a physician assistant. Working alongside providers who serve dual roles as community educators has made me realize the benefit such a role can fill in American communities, where gaps in knowledge and misconceptions about matters relating to health are just as present as in any other part of the world. I have learned to forge connections with people with whom, at first glance, I have nothing in common. I did not know my service would entail working so heavily with youth, and explaining topics like consent and what a healthy relationship looks like to adolescents like the four girls in my reproductive health lesson is a role that I had to adjust to, but I now see it as tantamount in importance to vaccinating a child or prescribing the right medication to treat a disease. I still seek the clinical skills to treat disease and illness, but I also want to continue to serve as an educator able to engage the community outside the office or hospital. I want to become a physician assistant who will embody these two roles and be a healthcare professional who treats the whole patient, body and mind, for total well-being.