Marrying PA and research through a dual degree

Emily Simonds

First, a bit about me, my name is Emily, and I am currently a first-year PA student and a second-year master’s in clinical research student. I went to the University of Wisconsin, and then I moved to Seattle, WA. I worked in the tech industry for 11 years. I decided I wanted to go back to school to work in health care. I became the poster nontraditional student taking classes while working and volunteering. I finally quit my job and started to work full-time in health care. I had a fantastic opportunity to do research and work in health care simultaneously. I found the PA profession through my boss and mentor.

At the time, I had no clue that you could work as a PA and do research. However, after a year of seeing my boss do just that, I decided that the PA profession was the right one for me. Being a PA would allow me to have the variety of work in healthcare that I wanted, and I saw that I could marry my budding passion for research at the same time that I was helping patients.

What drew me to Campbell University as a potential dual student was that there were only about ten programs in the country with Clinical Research degrees, and even fewer of those had PA programs. None of them had combined dual degrees. This combination of degrees was deeply appealing to me, so I applied.

When I got in, I knew it was the right fit; I said yes, and I packed up the life I had built in Seattle, moved to the other side of the country, and started this educational journey. When I think about it now, two years into my three-year program, this was the best choice for me.

In my first year in clinical research, I learned about clinical trials, ethics, data management, and statical analysis. I felt like I had only seen the tip of the ice burg. The skills I learned in that year, including time management and critical thinking, have proven invaluable in didactic year.

If you ask any of my classmates, they will probably tell you that I love books, and I love reading peer-reviewed journal articles. This passion and skill is something that has become of great use to me as a PA student. I will admit sometimes I get lost in the weeds of medical literature, but in this didactic year, having the skills to pick apart literature and search for guidelines and other resources outside of the classroom has been vindicating and an important skill one that will translate well to my career.

In my opinion, one of the best gifts of being a dual student is having the opportunity to meet other dual students in the health sciences and foster friendships across degrees. This has been instrumental when it comes to understanding different roles in the healthcare team in our IPE events. Also, anyone will tell you that a good support network will help you make it through PA school. I am lucky to have the support of the clinical research faculty and the physician assistant faculty.  I feel lucky to have not just one advisor but two.

Now that I am mid-way through didactic year, it is exciting to think about clinical year and my elective in clinical research; I cannot wait to see the rubber meeting the road. Taking all the information I have learned in didactic year and clinical research and see it translate into high-quality patient-centered care.