Lander University senior Jess Elkins, of Beaufort, was initially accepted into Lander's nursing program, but decided she wanted to pursue a more general education. She ended up majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry instead.
For some time, she was set on a career in dentistry and founded the Lander University Dental Association (LUDA), to make it easier for pre-dental students to connect with each other.
Her participation as a junior in a Volunteers In Medical Missions trip to Peru, however, changed her thinking.
"During the mission trip, I realized how, in practice, dentists are isolated from the rest of the medical field and only have a brief window to actually talk to their patients. The medical doctors on the trip were able to have a more personal insight into their patients' mental and physical conditions, and I craved that connection," she said.
After returning home, she began looking into the work of physician assistants - medical professionals who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and sometimes serve as a patient's primary healthcare provider. She learned more by shadowing Christopher Martin, a physician assistant at Dr. Camille Mason and Associates Dermatology Clinic in Abbeville, and Megan Carson, a physician assistant at Carolina Health Centers Uptown Family Practice in Greenwood.
"Physician assistants have the unique opportunity to work in concert with doctors and nurses in a variety of ways that I feel can only improve healthcare. I fell in love with the profession and am excited to attend the physician assistant program of the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio, starting in August of 2021," she said.
Elkins has excelled academically during her time at Lander, appearing on the president's list multiple times and winning the Nell Henry Award, presented to a rising senior biology major who exhibits potential for future scholastic achievement and contributions to the field of biology. She was one of several students participating in a research project examining sugar addiction in mice, which was presented at last year's Student Academic Symposium.
Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Melissa Hayes, who served as advisor to LUDA during Elkins's association with it, and who taught Elkins Principles of Biology and General Microbiology, predicted that "she will be successful no matter what she decides to do. Jessica stood out among her cohort due to her thoughtful questions, amazing problem solving skills and her overall approach to educational challenges."
Hayes called Elkins "a highly driven student and a proven hard worker. She demonstrates all the qualities desired in an exceptional future physician's assistant," she said.