Becoming a PA has not always been a clear cut career for me. However, after three years since my college graduation, it became evident that this was the path for me.

For many years I have had a desire to be involved in international health. Specifically in medical mission trips combined with health education. I am a strong believer that medicine without knowledge and application of that knowledge will not go far when the ultimate goal is to help medically deprived communities.

This idea can also be applied to the general public as well.

This dream has lead me to pursue a double masters in MMS/MPH with an emphasis on international health at Arcadia University in Pennsylvania. I plan to utilize my masters in public health concurrently with my masters as a PA.

The hope is that my masters of public health will give me a broader outlook of healthcare worldwide while providing me the tools to address health issues within public communities.

A Plan of Action

Of course, a dream without a plan of action will not go far.

That is why I have been encouraged to travel before I begin graduate school. I have gone to the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, and Italy, the latter for a period of three and a half months. Granted, these are not all communities lacking medical care, however the varying lengths of stays has taught me quite a lot about survival and living in a country foreign to myself:

  1. Communication with the locals
  2. Becoming familiar with the surroundings
  3. Mental preparedness.

Communication With The Locals

Addressing the first point is that of the importance of communication with the locals.

This is not to be taken lightly when a person enters another country. Awareness of the culture and language of the country being visited is crucial, not only for oneself, but also for the locals. This allows the people to potentially trust at a quicker rate because the effort shown on our part is recognized and appreciated, showing that we aren’t intruding their country, rather we are sincerely interested in who they are and what they stand for. From my experience of travel, people are quite passionate about their country and where they come from.

Therefore, if we take the time to learn about their country and their culture, prior to departure, settling in with the locals could become a smoother transition.

 Becoming Familiar With The Surroundings

The second key point is familiarity with the surroundings.

While visiting a foreign country, it’s important to feel as comfortable as possible. This allows a person to relax, enjoy, and perform better.

This begins with becoming knowledgeable of the areas that are safe and those that are not so that a person doesn’t accidentally end up in the wrong neighborhood.

Additionally, buy a map and take the local transportation around the city. This simple act can be one of the most beneficial. On a personal note, it has allowed me to feel freedom, sustainable, and independent.

Mental Preparedness

Finally, I find it important to prepare the mind for the trip.

A two-week expedition is quite different than a four-month stay. Despite the time frame, be completely cognizant of what lies ahead.

Granted there can only be so much preparation until the rest becomes part of the experience. However, the mind is powerful, therefore understanding the circumstances may ease the shock that some experience.

For instance, typically I had traveled for a maximum of two weeks out of the country. This was never a problem when it came to communication with loved ones. However, when I was on my three and a half month trip, I found this to be difficult. I enjoy touching base with family and friends. It brings me back to a place of complete familiarity and comfort.

Of course in time, I became adjusted to the lack of communication.

Discovering my Passion

Through my experiences I have been able to discover how I like to travel, how to be resourceful, and how to enjoy the experience when it’s different from what I was use to.

Because I chose to go out on my own and see different parts of the world, it has only enhanced my desire to continue to seek international health as a physician assistant.

I now know that I would be able to endure, handle, and enjoy my time abroad. It has become part of who I am and what I desire.

To be able to incorporate two of my joys, travel and healthcare, will be a pleasure for me!

This article was written by Rachel Bonertz, PA-S1, Arcadia University one of the student representatives for PAGH. This appeared in our July 2013 issue of the Nexus (A free monthly newsletter sent to all PAGH members) 


photo credit: Martin Sojka ..


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