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Six years ago, Jen Cyktor’s mother passed away from Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Today, Jen works as a physician assistant in the Cancer Center at UPMC Shadyside in Pittsburgh.
“The entire reason I became a PA was to help patients battling this horrible disease, even if only in a small way,” Jen said. “If I can be just a small part of someone’s story, and help them on their road to beating their disease, then I will feel like I accomplished something with my job.”
Originally, Jen had dreams of becoming a pediatrician. Her love of children and her desire to help people made her believe that it would be the perfect fit for her. But when her mom was diagnosed, her dreams began to change.
“My mom got sick when I was a sophomore in high school. The PA that took care of her was amazing, and really inspired me. So things sort of changed gears after that, and I’m really glad that they did. I wouldn’t trade being a PA for anything. The relationships that I get to form with my patients is everything that I ever wanted out of a career,” Jen said. “Even though sometimes it is very hard to be working with the same patient population, and seeing my patients go through the same things my mom went through, I think it helps me relate to them even more.”
Of course, Jen said, she faces some tough days on the job. In her field she shares in many difficult and sad situations. But it’s the days when she gets to give patients good news, and see them smile or cry because they are so happy, that makes everything completely worth it.
Jen, who grew up in West Newton, Pa., graduated from Saint Francis University in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences before obtaining her master’s in physician assistant sciences in 2014. As a student, she participated in the Semester in France program, while still staying on course with the five-year PA program. She also had the opportunity to participate in a service trip to the Dominican Republic where she worked in a free clinic.
It was the rigor of the program at Saint Francis that prepared Jen for her fast-paced career as a physician assistant. She continues to learn new things every day and is still taking what she learned in her classes and adapting those ideas to fit what she is doing now.
“Being a PA requires passion, empathy, dedication and a willingness to continue learning throughout your entire career,” Jen said. “It’s such a rewarding profession, and if you are committed to putting in the work to getting there, you’ll find that out for yourself.”
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