On International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we celebrate stories like Sarah Nelson’s. Since her earliest memories, Nelson, a Medical Assistant (MA) at Quincy Medical Group (QMG), has been driven by a passion to care for others. Initially aspiring to become a veterinarian, her trajectory shifted during a pivotal fifth-grade project, sparking a change that led her to the path she’s on today.
“We did a unit in my science class that my teacher called ‘Code Blue.’ We were split into groups, and each group was assigned a certain system of the body to research,” she said. “My group was assigned the heart. I remember at the time thinking, ‘This is really cool.’ I had always liked science, but this experience made me want to learn even more.”
During her college years at Quincy University, Nelson juggled multiple responsibilities. Alongside her studies, she worked part-time as a Patient Access Representative (PAR) at QMG and balanced her commitment to the women’s basketball team. Her role as a PAR provided her with invaluable insights into the world of healthcare, reinforcing her passion for pursuing a career in medicine.
“I floated to different departments, so I got to see a lot of different things as a PAR. It opened my eyes to being in healthcare because, on paper, you can think that’s what you want to do, but until you see it firsthand, you don’t truly know. It made me realize I was headed in the right direction.”
Initially setting out to study pre-med, Nelson envisioned herself as a doctor. However, her path took a turn when she discovered the role of Physician Assistant (PA).
To advance her education, it was necessary for her to provide documented hours in healthcare. With guidance from her leader at QMG, she made the transition from PAR to Medical Assistant (MA) last year. Initially, she floated between different departments, including primary care and specialty care, gaining exposure to a variety of medical practices, and establishing connections with both patients and healthcare professionals.
Earlier this year, she joined the Family Practice department at QMG and became part of Dr. Matthew Brink’s care team. Reflecting on this experience, she described it as “rewarding and educational.” Through this experience, she has grown her skills and gained a deeper understanding of medical procedures and decision-making processes. Dr. Brink has served as a mentor, fostering a supportive environment for learning and growth.
The medical field is a lot about science, but it’s also a lot about people. Nelson said she learns from her patients every day, giving her an appreciation for everyone’s individual experiences.
“I think I’ve come to gain more understanding of people and what they’ve been through and how that impacts their health. I think especially in the MA role, you get to know patients a lot better. I feel like it’s easier to build connections and you can really appreciate all the differences that everyone has,” Nelson added.
Nelson hopes to become a role model for young girls aspiring to careers in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics] and healthcare, aiming to show them that they too can thrive in her position. Reflecting on her own upbringing, she recalls, “When I was growing up, the image of a doctor in my mind was a man. I don’t know why we think that way, but I did. Often, it’s not until you’re older and gain experience that you realize, ‘Hey, I can do this too.’ Getting exposure to the healthcare field has been crucial.”
She emphasizes the importance of experiencing the field firsthand through working in the field or shadowing. “Shadowing a healthcare provider is a great way to gain exposure to healthcare. If you’re thinking, ‘Hey, this might be something I want to do,’ shadow someone. If we can create opportunities to bring in younger girls and help them explore science and its future possibilities, that would be amazing.”
Nelson is grateful for the opportunities she’s had in Quincy and QMG. Growing up in Quincy and engaging in community service activities, she embodies a commitment to serving others and improving the well-being of her community.
As she prepares for her steps, Nelson remains steadfast in her determination to make a difference in the lives of others and hopes to return to her hometown after PA school to care for a community that has meant so much to her.