This Pirate wants to help others
through a career in medicine.
Savannah Sipperly is studying to become a physician assistant
Savannah Sipperly, a second-year physician assistant student at East Carolina University, decided on a career in medicine during a church mission trip to Africa when she was 14 years old.
“When I was a child, my mom would ask if I wanted to be a doctor and I always said ‘No way.’
“But going to Africa made me realize how much good medical professionals can do in the world,” she said. “That trip cemented my desire to go into a field where I could help people for the rest of my life.”
Sipperly planned to become a doctor until her high school science teacher suggested she become a physician assistant. “At the time, I was very insulted,” she said. “I thought he was saying that because he didn’t think I could get into medical school, but then he told me about all the great reasons to be a PA.”
A PA’s flexibility to practice multiple specialties and focus her attention on patient interaction convinced Sipperly to pursue her science teacher’s suggestion. “It’s nice to be able to spend a little extra time with the patient and connect with them before I have to treat them. I think that helps the treatment - if you make a really good connection,” she said.
To complete the 1,000 patient care hours required for PA school application, Sipperly worked for two years as a certified nurse assistant during her undergraduate education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 2013.
Although many CNAs focus primarily on patients’ personal care, Sipperly said, “I was extremely lucky because… I was able to learn things that still help me in school, such as outpatient asthma management and vaccine scheduling.”
Sipperly wanted medical experience in a developing part of the world before she began her studies at ECU, so she shadowed doctors and volunteered in a rural hospital in Dehradun, India. “I wanted to see how the game changed without MRI scanners, computer systems and lots of funding,” she said.
“It was a fascinating way to learn about medicine. In order to get anything done, from medications to IV lines, patient’s relatives had to go buy the medicine at the pharmacy first. I also witnessed procedures that are rarely done in the U.S., such as a 9-inch goiter removal.”
After Sipperly completes her master’s degree in physician assistant studies in December 2015, she plans on working as an orthopedic physician assistant. “I enjoy orthopedics because I have always been a very active person, and almost all of orthopedics involves either very active people or older people for whom you are trying to maximize their activity level,” she said.
“It's also wonderful because it involves both clinical work and surgical work, so you get to see patients before and after surgery. Plus, you get to assist in their actual surgeries, and it's very rewarding to see their progression.”
What did you learn from your trip to India?
I learned so much about medicine from this experience, but I also learned more basic lessons, such as how to connect with people who don’t speak the same language, how to calm down a scared person through body language and the way you approach them after they have a difficult experience, like a car accident.
The experience I gained in the ER, OR and in psychiatry still helps me today, and I love comparing my memories of India to the way I see the same diseases treated in the hospitals I now work in. I will definitely be going back.
What brought you to ECU?
People think that medicine is black and white, and it’s not – it’s very grey. If you don’t work hard to stay on top of the latest research, which is not very fun, you get left behind and you end up providing care that is not as good. I was very impressed by the professors that I met on my tour, and I realized that they were the kinds of health care providers that I wanted to be; someone who is dedicated to getting people the best kind of health care.
What’s your favorite part of PA school?
I shouldn’t say this, but I love anatomy. Everyone hates anatomy, but I love it. It’s a lot of memorizing, but to me, it is so worth it, because it gets you into how the human body works. Everything is built off of anatomy, so if you want to understand the physiological processes of something, you have to understand anatomy. I know I’m very unpopular for thinking this, but I think it is the most important thing to spend your time understanding.
I also have enjoyed working with elderly people. I used to think I was going to have a hard time working with them, because I haven’t been around that many old people, but then I went to orthopedics and I found out that they’re great and so much fun to work with.
What advice do you have for students who are considering becoming a PA?
Be ready for the hardest two years of your life. Work hard in your prerequisite classes. Get some really good job experience where you make sure that medicine is truly where you want to spend the rest of your life. Finally, don't invest a little in ten extracurricular activities; find two that you are extremely passionate about, and work towards a position of leadership in those two - depth over breadth is preferable.
Photography by: Cliff Hollis
Written by: Grace Haskin
College: Allied Health Sciences
Major: Physician Assistant Studies
Class: Second-year graduate student
Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina
Hobbies & Interests: CrossFit, reading and traveling
Clubs & Organizations: Physician Assistant Student Society
Place on Campus: The football stadium on game day
Hangout: The graduate student lounge in Joyner Library
Place to Eat: Christy’s Europub
Class: PADP 6030 - Anatomy with Cadaver Lab
(What Should We Call PA School)
TV Show: "The League"
Musician/band: The Avett Brothers
Most Influential Professor: Clinical assistant professor Marty Mayer – his passion for teaching, commitment to students and excellence in his field inspire me every time I am lucky enough to be taught by him.
Dream Job: An orthopedic physician assistant
and creative director
You Can’t Live Without: Sushi
Role Model: My parents. They are my biggest supporters and have sacrificed so much for my siblings and me. I will never be able to thank them enough.
Words to Live By: ““Choose how you are willing to suffer. Because that's the hard question that matters. Pleasure is an easy question. And pretty much all of us have the same answer. The more interesting question is the pain. What is the pain that you want to sustain?
"Because that answer will actually get you somewhere. It's the question that can change your life. It's what makes me me and you you. It's what defines us and separates us and ultimately brings us together. So what's it going to be?” -Mark Manson
Advice for Fellow Students: It’s important to study hard during school, but it’s also important to take smart breaks and continue to do things you enjoy. Take time to see friends, go on a run, or get dinner with your classmates – you’ll never regret it.
Something cool about ECU you wish you knew during your first year: I wish I had figured out that Joyner Library is an amazing place to study. Sometimes, I just need to get out of Laupus Library, and Joyner is a wonderful place to escape.
“It’s important to study hard during school, but it’s also important to take smart breaks and continue to do things you enjoy."
– Savannah Sipperly