Koonj Shaikh, Class of 2013
Interventional Radiology Physician Assistant, Synergy Radiology, Houston, Texas
“Getting to present my research alongside one of my chemistry professors at a convention for advanced research that was held at Penn State York was one of my favorite memories from my time as an undergraduate student.”
For students seeking to become a physician assistant, Penn State York offers a bachelor of science degree in science, among others. That was the avenue Koonj Shaikh chose as she began working toward her goal of applying to physician assistant schools.
“Biology and chemistry gave me an overall basis of what I would learn in physician assistant school,” Shaikh said. “Chemistry helped a lot with learning mechanisms of medications, while biology helped with the anatomy and physiology side.”
The science degree at Penn State York is flexible enough to be tailored to a student’s personal goals. If there is a specific area of research they would like to focus on, they can work with program faculty to explore their options in that area, Shaikh shared.
“With Penn State York being a smaller campus, I was able to get more involved with my research on a one-on-one basis with my professors,” she said. “I was also able to publish two articles.”
Building a résumé is an important part of preparing to enter the workforce, for all students. Opportunities to contribute to scientific publications and get involved in community events can help strengthen a student’s résumé, often making them more desirable to potential employers or post-graduate programs. Shaikh made sure she had experiences that would help her stand out.
“I recommend students get involved in extracurricular activities, such as clubs or research,” Shaikh said. “A lot of physician assistant schools and medical schools are looking for students to have more work-like experience alongside their education. It gives them an overall basis of what the real working world would be like and what you can expect.”
College is also the time for students to explore and try new things. When students experience tasks firsthand, they often gain a better sense for what a given profession will entail. Shaikh explained that sometimes a student may think they know what they want to pursue in their career, but discover their interests lie elsewhere once they try it for themselves.
“Shadowing is a great thing to help dictate what specialties or field of work you want to go into,” said Shaikh. “You may like one field and change your mind after seeing how they work and what they are expected to accomplish.”
Shaikh appreciated all the firsthand experiences offered at Penn State York through the bachelor of science in science degree.
Victoria Motz-Patel, Class of 2013
General Internal Medicine Physician, Assistant Professor of the College of Medicine; Penn State Hershey Medical Center, Hershey, Pennsylvania
“My undergraduate research experience introduced me to research from start to finish. It has been invaluable in preparing me for conducting research at the post graduate level. Research is very important in medicine, and having this experience early on has opened a lot of doors.”
Penn State is one of the nation’s leading research institutions and the York campus is a small learning environment with opportunities for students to participate in hands-on research projects and work closely alongside experienced faculty. Victoria Motz-Patel saw the value of these research opportunities from the start and was able to apply her education to her experiences after graduation.
“As a student looking to enter medical school after graduation, I knew how important it was to be involved with research early in my education,” said Motz-Patel. “Dr. Vardo-Zalik gave me the opportunity to work on a lizard malaria project with her. Through this project, I gained experience in writing for a grant, conducting bench-top research, traveling to California to collect our samples, analyzing our findings, writing an abstract, presenting my research on more than one occasion, writing and submitting my journal article, and finally having my first publication. This was an experience that I am very thankful for and will cherish for the rest of my life.”
When it came time for Motz-Patel to apply to medical school, she felt well equipped and was selected for a program at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, Erie, Pennsylvania, before completing her residency at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
“I believe the smaller class sizes and the ability to get to know my professors personally helped me obtain an amazing research experience, as well as impressive letters of recommendation. All of this helped me in getting selected for medical school,” she said.
In addition to the potential to build a strong rapport with faculty at the York campus, Motz-Patel also found chances to get involved with the local community — to connect with new people, gain experience, and enhance her resume.
“I volunteered with the Pathways to Your Future program during my undergrad experience,” Motz-Patel explained. “This is a program that introduces seventh graders from around the York area to careers in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. I found it incredibly rewarding to be a part of encouraging future generations to pursue careers in science. Even now as a physician, I volunteer with similar programs to help encourage the next generation to pursue their dreams.”
Motz-Patel’s passion for encouraging and inspiring young people stems from her own experiences.
“Do not give up on your dreams just because someone says it is hard, or you didn’t come from a large undergraduate program,” she said. “Pick experiences that interest you and the future career you want and use that to propel you forward. Your grades, experiences, and letters of recommendation will speak louder than anything else. So, work hard, and never give up. You will get there eventually!”