First Year PA Student Blog: Tiffani Chang

Friday, July 26, 2019

Tiffani Chang
Tiffani Chang, PA-S

Last winter, a video uploaded on YouTube went viral with over a million views. This popular video showed a small cub climbing up a steep, snow-covered slope in Eastern Russia. The cub repeatedly slips and falls down the treacherous slope as its mother waits at the top of the slope. This heart-wrenching, thrilling video shows the cub’s never-ending perseverance to succeed.  

As I reflect on my first year of PA school, I look back and picture myself as this cub throughout the year, constantly struggling and falling down. With the daily grind of lectures, assignments and exams, I wrestled with stress, fatigue, and discouragement as the intensity of the program persisted. I thought about what I need to prepare, what I need to study, and what I did not know. But like this cub, I had an incredible support system of classmates, family, friends, and Duke PA faculty — my mama and papa bears — that helped me keep my eyes set toward the top and remember my "why."

It was just like any other day during my three-month internship in Nepal a few years ago. I was working as a summer medical intern following the doctor into the dark, humid, and hot maternity ward. The power had gone off, and the two small fans on either side of the room sat silent and motionless. The doctor sat next to a petite, dark-skinned mother. Beside her, in a bundle of blankets, was her newborn baby fast asleep. I learned the mother’s name was Maya. As the doctor and I were checking her and her baby’s vitals, I noticed a detail on her chart indicating the patient’s age — Maya was 14 years old.

I visited Maya every morning during the rest of her stay. I performed daily check-ups and helped with her daily tasks: re-adjusting the pillows, filling up her water bottle, and cleaning the trash on her bedside table. I would spend my lunchtime sitting with her as she watched her baby lay in the incubator. As the days progressed, Maya looked for me during morning rounds, and I was happy to see her welcoming smile whenever I entered her room.

Despite the language and cultural barriers, I learned it takes small acts of love to build a relationship. I didn’t have comforting words to say to her or the medical background to help her, but the time I spent with her every day built our relationship.

My encounter with Maya years ago is my "why" of PA school. Becoming a PA gives me the opportunity and privilege to enter into people’s lives and care for them medically and relationally. I can see patients like Maya and provide genuine and compassionate care. It’s easy to forget the "why" of studying during the whirlwind of didactic year. But I found that remembering my "why" propelled and encouraged me to persevere. We could all learn a lesson from the baby bear: Look up and don’t give up.

Now, as I embark on my final year of PA school with clinical rotations, I am filled with excitement and gratefulness that I have the privilege of being a part of a patient’s care.

Though the setting may be different at every rotation, there are people like Maya who I will encounter — people who need to be seen and are in need of a gentle healing touch. I want to see these people and want to extend that healing touch by providing genuine and quality medical care through medicine and relationship building. I have found people need more than chemicals to ward off disease. I want to become a health care provider caring and serving patients who are more than an entry on a spreadsheet, but who are real people in need of love and care.

Tiffani Chang is a first-year student with the Duke Physician Assistant Program. Email with questions.
Editor’s note: Duke Physician Assistant Program students blog twice a month. Blogs represent the opinion of the author, not the Duke Physician Assistant Program, the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, or Duke University.