USC Pre-Health Week 2011: Health Professional Panel

by Christina Luu

As part of the USC’s Pre-Health Week on Wednesday, April 13, a panel of health professionals including a physical therapist, a pharmacist, an occupational therapist, a dentist, and a physician assistant gave students insights into the rewards and challenges of their respective health profession and encouraged students to explore other avenues of medicine.

All panelists now have an active teaching role in their respective profession at the graduate level, but initially focused their introduction with a story of why they chose their profession.

Dr. Jonathan Sum, the Director of USC Physical Therapy Associates at the Health Science Campus and instructor of clinical physical therapy, connected with the students with his story.

Sum originally had a baseball scholarship to USC but lost it when he injured himself in high school. The care he received was inadequate for his injury and he lost his ankle. From that point, Sum stated that he vowed to not let that happen to other people and he finds that his career in physical therapy upholds that promise.

“My path to physical therapy is because I like to help people,” Sum said. “As patients come in, you get to see them from the point of their very worst and progress them to the point of ‘I’m back to doing what I want to do.”

Janice Tramel, the Director of Clinical Skills 2&3 of the USC Primary Care Physician Assistant Program, has been a PA for over 31 years and shares a similar affinity for helping others.

“I find my career very rewarding because there’s nothing better than to contribute to a person’s desire for a healthy life, to be able to identify problems, and prevent problems from developing,” Tramel said.

Tramel chose to become a physician assistant because of the career’s flexibility to work in any specialty such as pediatrics, OB/GYN, and primary care.

PAs work as a part of a health care team to provide the best care to a patient, Tramel said. However, the career’s biggest challenge is being recognized and understood by the general public.

Tramel recalls being frequently told that she was a great PA and asked why she did not go to medical school.

“I wanted to have a more normal life and interact more with the patient,” Tramel said. “Patients enjoy talking to someone [that’s] not a doctor; it’s the white coat syndrome.

“The PA profession is like the Trojan community because it’s large and small at the same time. There are over 88,000 PAs in the nation, but it’s like an additional family.”

Edit Mirzaian, an Assistant Professor of Clinical Pharmacy at the USC School of Pharmacy, identifies with the struggle of defining and redefining what pharmacy is to the public.

“When I say pharmacist, people see CVS and filling prescriptions,” Mizaian said. “That is a part of pharmacy but its not all what pharmacy is.

“Pharmacy is so much more but the only people that know that are the ones involved.”

When describing her role as a professor at the USC School of Pharmacy, Mirzaian emphasized the importance of experience education. Mirzaian teaches the first class that all incoming pharmacy students take at USC and during the first three weeks, she teaches students skills such as how to administer immunizations and conduct a plethora of screenings for diabetes, bone mineral density, and body fat.

“You learn things in the classroom but until you go out and do it, you haven’t really learned it,” Mirzaian said.

Like her pharmacy students, Mirzaian advises all pre-health students both undergraduates and graduates to volunteer and experience different aspects of the medicine field.

“It is worth your time to see what your possibilities are because I didn’t end up where I thought I’d be and I’m so happy where I am now,” Mirzaian said.

The advice to gain broader perspective of the health field was reiterated by Sum who hinted to students that work ethic in graduate school regardless of what medical profession.

“When you’re an undergraduate, you’re studying to make the grade,” Sm said.
“But when you’re in graduate school, you’re studying for your patient.

“It’s not about memorizing anymore. You need to know this information to be able to recall it two years from now for your patient.

Amanda Erin, currently a 2nd years masters student in occupational therapy, can attest to this.

Erin chose occupational therapy because she liked how the profession combined the medical side with a psychosocial side.

The theme for the profession is “occupations as a means and occupations as an ends” which means focusing on why people choose to do the things they do, Erin said.

The opportunities for creativity attracts students to the profession, she said.

“I had a friend who loved surfing and she made an adaptive surfing program for her veteran and at risk youth patients,” Erin said. “This method of therapy targeted their specific physical,, psychosocial, and stress relieving needs.”

As the only graduate student on the panel, Erin was able to attest directly to students’ direct questions about graduate school. Erin believes the key to succeeding in not only graduate school but a career in any medical profession is passion.

“As a student, doing what you love is important because that is what influences a client’s impression of you and the field,” Erin said.

“You’re a source of inspiration for clients and you use your passion in your practice.”