October 20, 2021
Medicine, Family, and Serving Her Community Inspire Student Leader
October 2, 2020
My name is Mariah Leroux, and I am a second-year student at the Duke Physician Assistant Program in Durham, North Carolina. I am originally from Los Angeles but moved to Durham from the metro Atlanta area where my family still resides. I have the incredible honor of serving as the 2020-2021 Student Academy president-elect. This is an exceptionally challenging year for so many of us, and my thoughts are with you all as we navigate our PA education in the midst of a pandemic and the fight for racial equality. This year’s Student Academy Board of Directors is comprised of some pretty amazing people with even more amazing ideas, and I’m excited to work alongside them to represent you, our fellow students, this year.
Before we make it to this point, each of us is asked the all-important question: “why do you want to be a PA?” Like many of you, the experiences that led me to choose this path were essential to answering that question. I grew up in Southern California, the oldest of three siblings. We never had much money, and one of the many ways that affected our lives was access to healthcare. Without insurance, preventative care was a luxury, and it was even more difficult to see a provider when someone got sick. When I started volunteering in free clinics as a college student, I related to my patients on a deeper level. Those experiences were so rewarding that I knew I wanted to help provide preventative care to underserved populations someday.
I had never heard of the PA profession before my junior year at Berry College, when my faculty advisor suggested it as a career path. Unfortunately, he presented it as a less competitive, more flexible option that would be better for me because I am a woman, and I was so offended I dismissed it without a second thought. But soon after graduating from Berry in 2013, I came across a blog post written by a PA that described seven reasons why she loved her chosen career. The reasons were simple, but they gave me a profound moment of clarity. A career as a PA was what I truly wanted; it would allow me to lead a well-rounded life, centered on the things that are nearest to my heart: medicine, family, and serving in my community. Every conversation and observation experience I had after that moment only served to solidify my decision to become a PA. I witnessed a sheer passion in PAs that I haven’t seen in others, a unique pride in the profession and the essential role they play on the healthcare team. I have never met a PA who doesn’t absolutely love what they do, which speaks volumes to me.
In the years since I chose this path, my experiences have shaped and matured me in ways I never would have imagined. I have developed a clearer picture of the kind of provider I want to become – an advocate, an educator, and a leader in my profession. My interest in leadership stems from a deep desire to help others feel seen and heard. Too often, the voices of underrepresented minorities, LGBTQ+ folx, differently-abled people, and other marginalized groups go unheard due to lack of representation. As a Black, queer woman, I know all too well the challenges of being in spaces where your needs are overlooked by the majority. When the opportunity came to serve my fellow students, first as diversity chair of my cohort, then as president-elect of the Student Academy, I knew I had to step up. I am passionate about diversity and representation in the PA profession for so many reasons. Both are vital for the forward movement of our profession, for the best innovations are often the result of people with different perspectives working together. Both help us build trust with our patients, making them feel seen and heard. And both are necessary for enhanced patient centered care, which should always our goal as providers.
In my time as president-elect, and subsequently as president of the Student Academy, I plan to foster an environment of openness, communication, and acceptance for all. I want to be a driver of change toward increased diversity, strong teamwork, and greater engagement with PA students everywhere. And I hope to be a source of encouragement to every pre-PA and PA student who is passionate about the growth and success of our profession. Getting involved in PA school can be challenging, but it is a worthwhile investment into our collective future. You can make an impact as a student, whether it’s with AAPA or its constituent organizations, your state PA organization, or your program’s student society. Now, more than ever, it is vital that we use our voices to advocate for the changes we want to see. The future of our profession needs you – will you answer the call?
Outside of PA school, Leroux enjoys playing tennis, going for walks, listening to podcasts, and watching Netflix with her partner. She can be reached at [email protected].