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To make a difference in someone’s life that drastic and that magical is just beyond words.

Second Year Student Blog: Casey Herdson

It’s hard to believe that three years ago I was filling out my CASPA application and writing my essays for PA school admissions. Two years ago, I was thrilled to be going to PA school and was navigating student loan applications, required textbooks, and vaccination requirements. And just one year ago, I was in school all week, studying all day on the weekends and wondering how I was going to remember everything when I was seeing my own patients.

Now, I am just finishing my first elective and am over halfway through the second year of PA school. Through all the chaos leading up to this month, it was easy to lose sight of why I wanted to become a PA in the first place.

The stress of the didactic year, preparing for clinical rotations, moving for months at a time on out-of-town rotations, finding time to study for end-of-rotation exams, trying to maintain friendships and a marriage, as well as finding a job after graduation, are all easy to get caught up in, but this past month made me realize the reason I’m here and the reason I chose this path.

‘Neuroradiology immediately caught my eye’

When we were first given the list of electives we could choose from for a clinical year, neuroradiology immediately caught my eye. Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but it just sounded too good to pass up. Much to my surprise, I was given the amazing opportunity to participate in this elective, and I have to say, Duke definitely made it worth it.

The preceptor is a world-renowned physician and one of only two physicians in the country who works in her specialty. She is smart, amazing, talented, and famous, but she is also humble and beloved by her patients. 

Many of her patients had been suffering for years with headaches or back pain that had crippled their lives. They were unable to work, unable to play with their children, and some were even unable to get out of bed. They came from all over the world hoping for a fix, and, many times, they found it at Duke Neuroradiology. 

While it was fascinating to learn new techniques and acquire new skills during this rotation, the real thrill was seeing the immediate transformation of the patients.

People who could barely talk during the pre-procedure screening were walking, talking, and laughing just minutes post-procedure. Their family or friends who were with them on this journey were usually stunned with the results, and also hopeful that they could all “get back to normal.”

To make a difference in someone’s life that drastic and that magical is just beyond words. This was one of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had the privilege of being involved with and truly embodies the power of medicine.

A life-changing experience

While this month has been particularly remarkable, I am compelled to think back on all the amazing experiences over the past months with the Duke Physician Assistant Program, and I am somewhat overwhelmed.

I started the Duke PA Program as a clinical dietitian and, with the end in sight, will finish the program as a physician assistant. While that may not seem like a big transition, it has been an overwhelming, life-changing experience for me.

Before beginning this program, it was hard to see myself as anything but a dietitian. I had already completed a bachelor’s degree, gone through a one-year internship as a clinical dietitian and had multiple specialty certifications in nutrition. I had a salary, a 401K, a marriage, a house, and pets. Deciding to start over was the scariest and hardest decision I have ever made, but it is so worth it in the end.

I cannot stress enough how much the Duke PA program is not just an education, it is a completely new way of looking at a career and a life. My only wish is that I would have done it sooner. To quote a movie classic, “I do not regret the things I have done, but those I did not do.”


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