A Sisterhood of PAs

Two sisters take different paths to PA school

December 1, 2017

By AAPA Communications Department

Debbie and Stephanie Smith are sisters from Virginia Beach, Virginia, who are both currently studying to become PAs, despite their seven-year age difference. Although they both shared an interest in medicine from a young age, their paths to PA school have been very different.

Debbie Smith
Debbie Smith

Debbie, the older of the two, had been interested in the medical field since high school but found herself gravitating more towards veterinary sciences. As she studied Biology Sciences at Virginia Tech, she told her younger sister Stephanie how much she loved the curriculum. Although Stephanie had only just started high school at the time, she knew she wanted to study Biology too.

After graduating from Virginia Tech in 2009, Debbie went to work at a Veterinarian’s office for a few years before she had a unique case that changed her outlook on medicine. Debbie treated a dog for Lyme disease, only to find out that the dog’s owner had been diagnosed with the disease as well.

“During the discussion, I found that I wanted to know more about his disease course, and how it was being managed,” Debbie said. “I enjoyed listening to him as he shared his story, and I could see he appreciated my genuine interest in his wellbeing and medical care.”

After this interaction, Debbie made the decision to switch to the human medical field. In 2012, the Smith sisters both enrolled in Emergency Medical Technician courses in Virginia Beach. Although they did not attend classes together, they helped each other practice for the state and national exams in the summer of 2013.

Stephanie Smith
Stephanie Smith

That fall, Stephanie left to attend the pre-PA program at James Madison University (JMU). While at JMU, she continued to practice as an EMT as well as becoming a General Clinic volunteer at the University Health Center.

“[I] would not be where I am today without the help of the providers and nurses from James Madison University’s Health Center,” said Stephanie. “They were eager teachers of medicine and supported [me] throughout the PA school application process.”

She also had great experiences as an EMT in Virginia Beach, recalling a specific instance that solidified her desire to be a PA. In 2015, her ambulance was dispatched to a jail clinic where she treated a man in his 20s. After completing his treatment, the patient profusely thanked her for her unbiased care.

“This is why I love medicine. It can be challenging and it’s not always pretty, but the patient interaction is so fulfilling,” Stephanie said.

As Stephanie completed her pre-PA program, she told Debbie about how excited she was to become a PA. It was largely due to Stephanie’s influence that Debbie decided to enroll in the PA program at Eastern Virginia Medical School in January of this year.

Last summer, Stephanie graduated from JMU and began her PA training at Shenandoah University. Although they started their programs at different times, the sisters often talk about what they love and find challenging about PA school.

They also continue to provide guidance and serve as examples for each other.

Debbie Smith and Stephanie Smith

“Debbie has been my role model throughout this process and throughout life,” Stephanie said. “Her perseverance is truly inspiring.”

Abby Boshart is the Communications Coordinator at AAPA. Email her at [email protected]