Second Year PA Student Blog: Kate Hauler

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Kate Hauler, PA-S
Kate Hauler, PA-S

The idea of practicing medicine has long enthralled me because I love science, people, and a good challenge – where else do these meld more perfectly? But there was always one thing in my way, not external but rather internal: my squeamishness.

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been squeamish. Not in an “eww, gross” way, but in an “oh gosh I think I’m about to pass out” way. That feeling of progressively blurring vision and ringing in the ears is all too familiar to me. I’ve fainted or come close as a preschooler peering at a cut on my knee, as an adolescent getting a vaccination, as a young adult having blood drawn for the first time at an employee physical. The very mention of surgery made me woozy.

So obviously, it would be impractical and irresponsible of me to care for patients in an environment surrounded by needles and IVs all day. Yet that yearning to be a healthcare provider remained. My job in clinical research was great but didn’t feel like quite the right fit. I couldn’t rest until I figured out a way around this obstacle to make my dream happen.

Turns out, there was no way around this obstacle – only through it. My dad suggested one day that I try facing my fear head-on by donating blood, as he did prior to his own medical career. I found it to be a terrifying but brilliant idea.

Around this time, I shadowed a PA at the hospital where I worked. When I asked why she decided to go into hematology-oncology, she said she had personal reasons for doing so; presumably, she or someone she was close to was affected by cancer. She also told me that she used to be squeamish too, but that if you are truly motivated, you can get through it, as she did.

I took this advice to heart. Our hospital had a comfortable blood donation center, and over the next year, I successfully gave four times. I was terrified every time but kept reminding myself of my motivation - and I did it.

That’s when I decided it was time to apply to PA school. Fast-forward to my first semester at the Duke PA Program. One of my favorite parts of the didactic year curriculum was the frequent hands-on learning opportunities. These were fun experiences where we practiced skills such as physical exams, microscopy, and ultrasonography. But squeamishness can take a while to overcome. As our phlebotomy lab loomed – when my classmates and I would practice drawing blood on each other – I grew increasingly nervous.

The day arrived. Less seasoned students like me paired up with those who had more phlebotomy experience. If you’ve read other blogs here, you know that one of the best parts about being a Duke PA student is having amazing classmates! Thanks to my encouraging, helpful partner, along with some grit and determination, I got through the lab just fine (albeit a little shaky). A few months later, we practiced inserting IV lines, which also scared me but went similarly well. When our final phlebotomy session rolled around at the end of the year, I found myself almost entirely without nerves.

My first rotation of clinical year was Women’s Health, where I had the opportunity to participate in a Cesarean delivery. The surgical team was very welcoming and warned me that there can be a lot of blood in this surgery (the uterus is a highly vascularized organ); a few years ago, I would never have thought myself capable of assisting. Now I’m glad to be involved in such amazing procedures. Witnessing birth was an incredible experience!  

Today, as I delve into my Internal Medicine rotation, I’m grateful to be learning more medicine every day, actively caring for patients, and challenging myself – all of the things I wanted to do for so long. I’m thankful for the advice that helped me push past my self-doubt. The message I hope to convey is that whatever your obstacle is – and I think we all have one – it doesn’t have to hold you back from your dream. Keep tapping your inner motivation and strength to push you forward.

Kate Hauler is a second-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.