My name is Karolis and I am going to be a Physician Assistant. To me that sentence is clear and genuine, and it feels absolutely amazing to be in a position to share it with others. However, the road that has lead to this position was not always conventional or straightforward, but actually filled with many unexpected bumps and turns. My ambitions to get involved with the medical field began at a young age when I was still living in Lithuania, the country I was born in and spend the first 9 years of my life in. I declared myself as a Biology major as soon as I started college at IVC, a local community college. Though it is clear now that I have essentially come around full circle, I did at one point put aside my full-fledged pursuit of a career in medicine and actually shifted my focus toward the areas of environmental biology and ecology. After transferring to CSU Fullerton, I took a Desert Ecology course during my first semester on campus. I both excelled and had a great learning experience in this course, which was taught by Dr. Darren Sandquist. At the end of the semester I came across a great opportunity to join Dr. Sandquist’s Physiological Plant Ecology Lab, and I jumped on it. I spent the rest of my undergraduate career, all 3 and a half years of it, as a member of this lab and completed an independent research project with the help of Dr. Sandquist and fellow lab members.
Around the same time that I joined this research lab, I also became involved with an on- campus organization called CSUF Students Recycle. I was one of the club’s founding members and served as its vice-president during one semester before graduating. Our club raised money by collecting recyclables, and also by holding both on-campus bakes sales and off-campus yard sales. All of the proceeds went toward buying goods for a local soup kitchen in Costa Mesa. As a club, we also began to volunteer at this soup kitchen one Sunday each month. My involvement with this soup kitchen soon became more commonplace and I continued to serve there even after graduating from CSUF in 2011. I knew that getting involved with such a cause would be a great addition to my resume as I later applied to medical and PA schools, but I never imagined it would have such a profound affect on my life. Having the opportunity to improve the lives of our community’s homeless and less-fortunate in such a “hands-on” type of way has been a humbling and greatly uplifting experience.
Because of a job that I had all throughout college, I had the rare chance to meet many doctors. I was able to arrange for a variety of shadowing experiences and eventually accumulated an enormous amount of hours spent in both the OR and in office settings. Almost simultaneously and on a more personal level, my dad was diagnosed and fought a long battle with bile-duct cancer. It is safe to say that during that time I experienced a lot of things from two different perspectives - that of the healthcare professionals and that of the patient. Everything that my family and I battled through for those couple of years reaffirmed my commitment to pursue a career in medicine. I was very fixated on gaining admission into an allopathic medical program and did not really consider any other field in healthcare at that time. Right before graduating in 2011, I applied to almost 30 medical schools. I knew that my lower than average scores on the MCAT (which I took twice) were going to lower my chances of catching the eye of medical school admissions, but I was also hoping that my high GPA along with various volunteering and shadowing experiences would help balance out my application. I was invited to only one interview and it was on the east coast at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). After returning home from the interview with confidence that it went really well, I was soon placed on their waiting list. As the months dragged on while I was waiting for some news, I kept myself busy with a full-time job, continued shadowing doctors and volunteering, and also enrolled in some college Spanish courses to improve my skills in a language I was bound to often encounter in my future profession. Something else that I did while waiting for a response was ponder what I would do with my life if I did not get accepted. As awkward as it may have been to consider at the time, I began to think more about the role of a Physician Assistant in the field of medicine. I encountered many PAs while shadowing their supervising physicians, and in fact I began to work more closely with some of them then the physicians themselves. One of the most important attributes I had hoped to bring to the field of medicine as a doctor was that pertaining to communication with patients. From those most recent experiences, especially with my dad’s battle with cancer, I began to realize how important communication was between patients and their healthcare providers. It began to be quite evident to me that the role of a PA was perfectly aligned with the difference that I personally wanted to make in this field. After receiving a rejection letter at the end of the summer in 2012, my disappointment was quickly overcome with the acceptance that medical school wasn’t really the right path for me, but the path of a PA was.
The last year and a half has kind of been a scramble to make sure I am fully prepared to shift my focus toward a career as a PA. Strangely enough, there were a few courses that were required as prerequisites for PA school while not for medical school, such as: Microbiology and Anatomy. So, while I researched more about the PA profession and the requirements of various programs, I continued to shadow a PA who I had already spent quite a bit of time with and also began nocking out the rest of my required coursework. Just a few months into this shift in focus, I knew I was finally headed down the right path - and it felt great! As much as I wanted to gain admission into a PA program, I also wanted to stay close to my loved ones. So even though it was obviously risky, I only applied to programs in California and was also limited within our own state by some programs’ requirements of upwards of 2,000 hours of paid healthcare work experience, which I did not have. As before however, I was confident that schools without those strict requirements would pay more attention to my great wealth of shadowing, volunteering, and personal experiences. Soon after interviewing with and being rejected from the PA program at USC, I was invited for an interview at Western University of Health Sciences - my number one choice. I went in knowing that this was my last chance, at least for this year, but I knew that I was ready for it. Something tells me that my positive attitude and confidence that day carried over to an acceptance just a little over a month later when I received an acceptance letter. Hearing that news was an absolutely incredible feeling, and I immediately shared with those closest to me and many others who have been involved along the way. In a few months I will be a PA student at a great school which happens to be only 10 minutes away from a home I am sharing with my fiancé who is an RN - all things I would’ve never imagined just a few years ago.
The advice I would give to students reading my story is actually quite vague: just take life as it goes and don’t ever give up. It may also sound cliche, but that’s literally what happened to me. I learned that you have to take chances, you should never be afraid to ask for or go after something you want, and you must use those small inevitable failures to build towards those big long-awaited accomplishments. If you have a goal, stick with it- just don't be alarmed if life suddenly twists you in another direction.