I can still picture the debris strewn across the freeway in front of me like the events of that spring morning were repeating themself. The fog was thick with poor visibility. Without much of a warning, I found myself first on scene of a rolled-over pickup truck resting on the center divider and another damaged vehicle some distance east of where I stopped. Another Good Samaritan had stopped behind me to offer their assistance. After placing the 911 call to request aide, we approached the pickup to look for victims.
Inspection of the passenger compartment revealed a male and a female who appeared to be around my age, both in obvious distress. Without a moment of hesitation, my fellow impromptu rescuer and I removed both of the injured parties from the overturned vehicle. The male was able to communicate, but the female was unresponsive with an obviously broken leg and trace amounts of blood on various parts of her body. I found myself running across busy lanes of the freeway with almost zero visibility to retrieve a blanket I’d received for Christmas, hoping to prevent the rapid onset of shock. While driving home, I felt a dizzying array of emotion that ranged from anger to relief. After my brief experience as a lay rescuer, I decided that I never wanted to feel that helpless in an emergency setting ever again.
I am the first member of my immediate family to actively pursue higher education, but did so without forethought about where I was and where I wanted to end up. The tragic but auspicious events of that evening propelled me in my current direction, honing my educational pursuits on to something that I enjoy immensely rather than blindly taking general requirements and putting little effort into my academics. I enrolled in a local EMT-Basic course during the winter semester after becoming CPR and first-aid certified. During that time, I feverishly devoured the subject matter, absorbing information like a sponge. Passing that final was one of the happiest moments of my life. Medicine is my passion, and I knew from that moment on I’d never want to do anything else as a career.
Mere weeks after graduation, I found myself working as an EMT at a privately owned ambulance service in Orange County. The experience of assessment and human interaction during stressful situations I received was invaluable, but our skillset was limited and we encountered a very homogenous patient population. Around my sixth month, I began to feel anxious and I knew that I wanted more. Paramedic school seemed like the next logical step, so I took the plunge. It was also around this time that I made the transition from transport to emergency room technician and had my eyes opened to a whole new world of medical practice.
While employed in the emergency department, I was given the opportunity to work alongside both physicians and physician assistants. The learning curve was steep but the environment was enriching. We were allowed to perform and assist with various procedures, some of which included splinting, wound care, assessment, and suture removal. I was amazed at the similarity of the roles of both the paramedic and physician assistant which includes autonomy in decision making while functioning under established protocols, as well as the ability to consult with a supervising physician if necessary. I had made my decision to become a physician assistant.
After much thought and input from physician assistants I worked beside, I decided it would be in my best interest to pursue a bachelor’s degree prior to application. Loma Linda was my school of choice for completing my undergraduate studies while working as a 911 paramedic in one of the nation’s busiest systems. Again, I had my foundation pulled out from under me and my eyes reopened. I quickly noticed that many low-income patients, medically underserved residents, reservation members and the vagrant population utilized emergency medical services as an alternative to or the only source of primary care. It was then I realized I wanted to shift my focus from reactionary emergency medicine towards prevention and Family Practice.
I often look back and reflect on the events in my life that have lead up until this point. I’ve made mistakes, worked dead-end jobs and experienced unforeseen loss of role models. At any point, the decision could have been made to be content and leave it at that. Instead, I feel as though I’ve harnessed the outcomes of those situations to temper my resolve and push myself further towards both my educational and professional goals. The curriculum of physician assistant school will be the hardest thing I’ve done, but I believe my past experiences coupled with my work and educational experiences have prepared me for the rigorous endeavor I hope to undertake. Becoming a physician assistant will allow me to continue to help those in need while satiating my medical appetite of problem-solving, decision making, and diagnosis.