First Year PA Student Blog: Mariah Leroux

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Mariah Leroux, PA-S
Mariah Leroux, PA-S

It finally happened one January afternoon. Four long, difficult and often disappointing years of applying and reapplying to  physician assistant programs finally ended when I received my first acceptance letter from Duke University. It’s difficult to describe the flood of emotions I felt in that moment, but a mixture of pure joy and gratitude prevailed. The years of frustration and rejections had resulted in a better outcome than I ever could have imagined, and I couldn’t stop the tears as I reflected on everything it took to get here.

Most PA students have less than straightforward journeys, and mine is no exception. My first introduction to the profession was an unfortunate experience – an older undergraduate advisor looked at my struggling GPA and offered PA school as an alternative to medical school because he perceived it to be a more attainable option for a young woman interested in medicine. I dismissed the suggestion, determined to achieve my dream of becoming a pediatrician.

My GPA was low (just shy of a 3.0) when I graduated, but I was proud to have finished my last semester on the Dean’s List. Despite my determination, something about the MD route never quite felt right for me, so when I was waitlisted and eventually rejected from the one MD program I interviewed with, I started considering other options.

I knew immediately that this was the career I had been looking for


One day, scrolling through Pinterest, I came across a blog post that changed everything. It was a short piece written by a PA, outlining the reasons she chose her career. Simple and straightforward as it was, this was a pivotal moment for me, and I knew immediately that this was the career I had been looking for.

The next few years were filled with challenges and moments of divine providence. I became  a certified medical assistant, hired on the spot during my first interview. I learned so much about medicine, working on a health care team, and caring for patients in the two years I was there. During that time, I wrote letters to every PA at my local hospital and was allowed to shadow over 100 hours in several different specialties, took post-baccalaureate classes, and volunteered at free clinics.

Meanwhile, I applied to PA programs twice without even an interview invitation. I made the difficult decision to leave work and attend a graduate Biomedical Sciences program, and I’m so glad I did. Not only was I able to improve my GPA, but I learned invaluable study skills that have made me a better PA student today than I ever would have been otherwise.

I was strategic when I applied for the fourth and final time, choosing schools with a holistic approach to admissions and not limiting myself to specific locations. I was offered four interviews and two acceptances, and I gladly welcomed the invitation to become a Durhamite.

In the six short weeks since starting this program, I have found a family here


It has been six weeks, and PA school is everything and nothing like I thought it would be. It is absolutely the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life, not only because of the volume and pace of the material, but because of the mental blocks I have to overcome every day (imposter syndrome is very real). It has also been one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

When you are chosen to be part of a 90-person cohort, you wonder how you’ll ever find your tribe. There are so many people with wildly varying backgrounds, and it may seem like you don’t have much in common with anyone. But PA school is like a crucible – the shared experience of keeping up with two tests, a quiz or two, and multiple assignments each week creates a camaraderie I’ve never experienced before. In the six short weeks since starting this program, I have found a family here. We work hard and have fun together; we share the intimate details of our lives and we find support and acceptance in one another.

Even when I wonder if I’m meant to be here, I know I’m not alone. There is truly nowhere else I’d rather be.

Mariah Leroux 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.