James Madison University

Alumni Highlight - Sarah Bowman

B.S. Kinesiology/Exercise Science Class of 2013, pre-Physical Therapy and pre-Physician’s Assistant preparations

PHOTO: Sarah Bowman

For much of my life I have been convinced I wanted to work in the medical field. The only problem is I’ve never been entirely sure of in what capacity. Looking back on the path to where I am now this wandering is clearly apparent. Upon first entering JMU I was leaning towards pursuing Physical Therapy (PT), but wanting to still hold on to the idea of medical school due to my fascination with surgery I started out as biology major. By the end of my freshmen year I decided PT was indeed where I wanted to land, at which point Kinesiology seemed a more appropriate stepping stone as the background would be more applicable to PT curricula. Fast forward to my senior year I made the spontaneous decision to switch to pre-Physician’s Assistant (PA) as that way I could still land in the Operating Room one day but not have to go through 8+ years of medical school and residency to get there.

While my interest has always leaned more towards the clinical side of medicine, I spent my practicum and internship utilizing the more “relational” side so to speak. For my practicum I worked with the Morrison-Bruce Center, working specifically with “Healthy Kids”, “Movin’ & Groovin’ Day”, and “Alumnae Health and Fitness” programs, and then for my internship I worked with Dr. Moran and his “Overcoming Barriers” program, which brings fitness and physical activity opportunities for kids in the community with disabilities. As an elective I had taken one of Dr. Moran’s Adapted Physical Education classes where we developed individual and group lesson plans for teaching different games and skills to kids with varying abilities and disabilities. I enjoyed the class so much that I wanted to continue working with Dr. Moran and all these wonderful children while still at JMU. As Dr. Moran’s assistant I was the point-person for communicating with families about the programs and scheduling, and was an instructor/mentor for both group classes and private lessons for activities including swimming, bike riding, and fitness. Not only did working with those kids always bring a breath of fresh air and a lot of joy, the internship also gave me the confidence to work with this population in one of my first jobs after college.

Upon graduation I had one predominating goal: experience. I moved to Raleigh, NC to be a part of a leadership program, during which I had a part-time internship with Raleigh Medical Group. What is unique about this particular doctor’s office is that one of its physicians, Dr. Fischer, has a passion for helping his patients modify their lifestyle to treat conditions associated with obesity, rather than simply relying on medication. He created a wellness program for his high-risk patients, where once a week he, or another guest speaker, gives a short lecture on topics ranging from diabetes, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and the like, describing how the conditions work and how they can be treated by increasing physical activity and healthy eating. The participants would then have a fitness class to teach them ways they can exercise on their own. As Dr. Fischer’s intern I was mostly responsible for behind-the-scenes work, keeping track of patient’s weekly measurements, pre- and post- program lab values, creating PowerPoint presentations for each session, and communicating with participants. While this was not necessarily where I wanted to end up, it was pretty cool to have my first job out of college match up with my major to a T, as that’s not every college grad’s experience.

PHOTO: Sarah Bowman
Following this internship I worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) for Maxim Healthcare, a temp agency, and Bayada, a home health care company for people with disabilities, in their pediatric branch. The best (and hardest) part about these jobs was learning to work with a wide variety of people and populations. Through Maxim for example I worked at a number of hospitals and nursing homes, with patients ranging from the elderly and dementia patients to patients with suicidal ideation to teens with eating and other mental disorders. With Bayada, I worked with several kids with conditions ranging from SMA (spinal muscular atrophy), cerebral palsy, and those who were non-verbal. Now it’s true that as a CNA I wasn’t necessarily doing much “clinical” work or skills, but boy did I gain a lot of practice with talking and interacting with different types of people (plus their families) and learning to adjust fairly quickly, which, particularly in the medical field, I think is often an underrated skill.

So what happened with PA school? I applied during my second year out of college, and while applying, decided to also take an EMT certification course as a just-in-case measure. Turns out I made the right decision, because I didn’t get into PA school that time around. Consequently I switched gears and applied and was hired for an EMT position for Wake County Government in Spring 2016, and began Academy in July 2016. It has now been a little over a year and I have to say I’m glad I – albeit involuntarily – held off on grad school. Working on the streets, going to anyone and everyone’s home to attend to whatever medical need they need attention for is a very unique environment to learn and gain experience in medicine. It’s different everyday, I never know who I’m going to see, what setting I’ll be in, or what medical concerns I’ll be faced with until my pager goes off and my partner and I head out. If nothing else it keeps things interesting and rarely boring. After working as an EMT for 2 or 3 solid years I may apply again to PA school, but I have also thought about going to Paramedic school and staying in EMS for a while. Truth is I’m still not entirely sure where I want to ultimately land; but that’s ok. I love to learn and I love to gain new skills, and as such I plan on continuing to do so until I find the thing I can’t get enough of.