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Becoming A Physician Assistant: A Student’s Story of Career Exploration

Written by: Anna Lalande, Direct Care Professional & On Campus Recruiter at ACR Homes.

I started college as a biomedical engineering student, but through shadowing, volunteering, and working as a Direct Care Professional at ACR Homes, I realized the Physician Assistant profession was the right career path for me. The patient care experience of working hands-on with adults who have disabilities at ACR Homes taught me how much I value patient relationships and grew my confidence as a provider. ACR also helped me realize that I want to learn more about my patients’ diagnoses and be able to diagnose and treat patients myself.

Growing up, I always had an interest in medicine. My mom is a physician, and from a young age, I noticed how rewarding a career in healthcare could be. I knew I wanted to be involved in medicine in some capacity, but I wasn’t sure which healthcare career I wanted to pursue. The first career I considered was biomedical engineering (BME). My high school physics teacher was aware of my interest in healthcare but also my love for math and physics, and he really pushed me towards BME. It seemed like something I would enjoy, so I started my freshman year at the University of Minnesota as a BME student.

I found my introductory biomedical engineering classes interesting, but I quickly realized I was more interested in the patient-facing side of medicine. We oftentimes had biomedical engineers come and present to our class. I especially enjoyed hearing from the prosthetics engineers, but I found myself asking them, “As a biomedical engineer, can I be the person fitting the patient for the prosthetic instead of building it?” It didn’t take long to realize I was in the wrong field.

Direct Care Professional Anna Lalande at Disney World with an ACR Homes Resident who is a person with disabilities. She's learning the value of patient interaction for her career path as a physician assistant.

At this point, I changed my major to Kinesiology and began exploring physical therapy (PT) as a career path. I played sports in high school, had been through my fair share of physical therapy myself, and loved exercise. Both kinesiology and PT seemed to align nicely with my interests. I also began shadowing PTs and volunteering at a rehabilitation clinic to get a better sense of the profession. I really enjoyed learning about physical therapy and the various settings PTs can work in. At the same time, I wanted to learn more about each patient’s’ diagnosis, and I found myself curious as to what other treatment options were recommended to them in addition to PT. The physician assistant (PA) profession was starting to sound like a better fit.

It was around this time that I applied for a job at ACR Homes. I thought it would be a great way to gain healthcare experience and patient care hours while helping me decide whether the PA profession was right for me. For many reasons, ACR Homes confirmed my decision to pursue the PA profession:

  1. I found a community of other employees interested in becoming a Physician Assistant 

Several other direct care professionals at my house were also Pre-PA students. I loved hearing about their reasons for pursuing the PA profession, and chatting with them made me even more excited about the field. They also gave me all sorts of advice regarding the application process and how to find shadowing opportunities. I loved having a community of people with similar goals and interests to turn to.

  1. I completed a Pre-Physician Assistant Internship

During my pre-PA internship, I researched one resident’s diagnoses in detail and enjoyed learning more about the pathophysiology and clinical presentation. I also did extensive reflection during my internship on why I wanted to be a Physician Assistant.

  1. I attended resident appointments with Physician Assistants

Direct care professionals at ACR Homes have the opportunity to advocate for their residents at appointments. I attended a handful of appointments with my residents, some of which were with PAs. This experience helped me learn more about the profession.

  1. I learned how much I value patient relationships, teamwork, and autonomy

Working at ACR Homes is incredibly rewarding. I developed close relationships with all my residents, and it helped me realize I want to pursue a profession that allows me to develop strong patient relationships. I also enjoyed the team aspect of working at ACR Homes and realized I enjoy having some level of autonomy. To me, the Physician Assistant profession is the perfect combination of being able to develop strong patient relationships while working as a team with other providers and still being able to see patients autonomously.

  1. I had a desire to learn more about my residents’ diagnoses, the underlying pathophysiology, and the medications they were taking

ACR Homes exposed me to a wide array of diagnoses and medications, and I enjoyed learning about them. I have a desire to pursue graduate school to deepen my understanding of medicine and learn how to diagnose and treat patients.

I have absolutely loved working at ACR Homes. Getting to know and care for my residents has been a rewarding and impactful experience. ACR Homes also gave me confidence in my decision to pursue the Physician Assistant profession. I found community with other pre-PA students, deepened my understanding of the profession through my pre-PA internship and resident appointments, and realized what qualities are important to me within a career in medicine. I am in the process of applying to PA school right now, and in part due to ACR Homes, I feel confident that I am pursuing the career that suits me best.

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