A little over a year ago, I took a tremendous leap of faith. With the blessing (and immense support) of my husband I left a job that I loved and returned to school to pursue my dream of becoming a Physician Assistant.
Allow me to backtrack, a little. Like many others before me (and many yet to come) I evaded the “what do you want to be when you grow up” question for as long as humanly possible.
As a young child, I dreamt that one day, I’d save lives working as a pediatric surgeon. (Keep in mind that at this time, I had very limited knowledge of the healthcare profession. In my mind, just two potential pathways existed. I could either be a doctor or a nurse. I chose what seemed to me at the time to be the more grandiose of the two.) The visions of performing surgeries on children came to a screeching halt during the winter of my eighth-grade year. My younger brother was run over by a truck while sledding and nearly lost his life. I suppose that seeing someone that I love so fiercely being kept alive by machines that breathed for him while large tubes drained fluid from his crushed chest just made things too real.
Time passed, and as my old dreams faded from my mind, newer, equally grandiose dreams came flooding in. For a while, I was set on being the first woman to play Major-League Baseball. I got down and dirty and played Little League with the boys for a while. Eventually, I returned to playing softball, and my shape-shifting set of goals steered me towards the desire to be the first female commentator for Major League Baseball. More life happened, as it always does, and Suzyn Waldman “ruined” that dream for me. (I still get a chuckle at the sour taste I get in my mouth when I spit out her name.) I rationalized that maybe I wouldn’t be the first female commentator, but I could certainly be the best!
In 2000, I set off to college at Penn State, and in 2004, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism with a concentration in sports. I even worked a brief stint with the Penn State Sports Network before relocating to North Carolina.
The thing is, as hard as I tried to be successful and achieve my (most recent) dream, I never felt truly complete or comfortable doing so. And while I said my dreams of medicine left my mind in the wake of my brother’s accident, I learned that they never truly left my heart. I returned to working in the medical field. I worked as a receptionist. I did billing and insurance. I worked in management in an Orthopaedic clinic. The entire time, I wanted more. I wanted to work directly in patient care. Eventually, I took a sizeable pay cut and resigned from my position in management to work clinically as a medical assistant. On my own, I became certified by the State, and in a stroke of good fortune, over the course of six years, I worked for two doctors, a Nurse Practitioner, and a Physician Assistant who recognized my desire of learn and cultivated it.
Time and experience broadened my lens to the many professional opportunities available in a healthcare setting. I worked in clinic for years, trying to find my niche. Observing a phenomenal Physician Assistant run a pain management clinic like a well-oiled machine gave me the clarity for which I’d sought for, for years. I finally knew what I wanted to be when I “grew up.”
The incredible providers I worked for knew I needed to move forward. It was with their blessing and encouragement, as well as my husband’s, that I said goodbye to my job and returned to complete the prerequisite courses I needed to apply to the PA program, itself.
I did so with a fury. I tackled Anatomy and Physiology I and II, Microbiology, Calculus and Chemistry like my life depended on it. I was always a decent student, but suddenly, I was a 4.0 student with a dream–one well within my reach.
Then, in the process of filling out applications, I was asked a very pointed question. “Why?” I was asked to point out one specific life experience that shaped my goals and my professional vision, and I was asked to do so in approximately 250 words.
There are so many ways to answer that question, none right or wrong. Several of them, I have already mentioned. Yet, one thing that I have yet to list as a reason kept screaming at me from inside my head.
You see, I didn’t just pick a convenient time to leave the workforce and return to school. I made that choice in the midst of the unknown. My child was diagnosed with autism. My husband and I were fresh into a new journey, virtually in the dark, and I chose to leave my comfort zone and pursue my dream all while learning to live life in a whole new way. Put into words, it almost seems crazy. In reality, it has made me a better person and I believe it will make me better healthcare provider, too. So I did what that Journalism degree taught me to do. I put pen to paper. In approximately 250 words, here is what I came up with:
“How did I get here?” On the surface, this seems like such a benign question. Admittedly, it is a question that I have asked myself with some degree of regularity in the two years that have passed since my youngest daughter was diagnosed with autism.
Piper’s diagnosis wasn’t a singular, defining moment in my life. Rather, it is representative of the summation of an ever-increasing amount of moments that will continue to shape who I am personally and professionally. Piper’s diagnosis was a catalyst into the journey of the unknown.
While it may seem incredible that such an unpredictable journey could provide clarity in terms of personal awareness and life goals, for me, this journey has been nothing short of enlightening.
Navigating appointments as the voice of an individual who was largely nonverbal has been my greatest lesson. It served as a reminder of how important it is to empower family members to learn from experiences and advocate for their loved one, when necessary. Most importantly, I have learned to “listen” astutely with many senses at all times. Even when working with a verbal patient who has no family present, there are times when nonverbal communication fills in critical pieces of the puzzle that would be easy to overlook, otherwise.
This experience has highlighted the values that separate a good medical provider from a great one, and has ignited the spark inside of me into a full-blown fire. It has made it clear that I am capable. This experience is “how I got here” and its ever-evolving nature will continue to motivate me to be resourceful when caring for others.
And like sands through the hourglass, now I wait.
What I have realized is that this waiting period is scary! When you start out on the journey, it feels like it will take forever. Then, suddenly one day, it hits you that you’ve done everything you can, and you have to have faith that it’s enough. It’s totally different than waiting for acceptance to college out of high school, that’s for sure.
Waiting has proven to be tough for me. Perhaps, though, it’s just another important life lesson to be learned in the process.