Celebrating the moment
UF School of Physician Assistant Studies graduates 59 members of the class of 2018
June 18, 2018 — For Heather Nations, Saturday’s UF School of Physician Assistant Studies graduation ceremony marks more than the culmination of two years of education. It means that she will be able to pursue her dreams of healing others, just a decade after doctors gave her a 10 percent chance of surviving stage 3 synovial cancer. Six rounds of chemotherapy later, Nations is cancer free and creating the life she’s always wanted as a physician assistant.
“For me, becoming a physician assistant has been a long-term goal for about a decade. It’s almost surreal to have reached this point,” she said. “As Jimmy Fallon recently said when he spoke at Parkland High School’s graduation, ‘Celebrate anything you can as often as you can, because it’s fun.’ We have definitely been celebrating this moment.”
UF College of Medicine Dean Michael L. Good, M.D., addressed the graduates, along with their friends, family and faculty, at Saturday’s ceremony held in the University Auditorium.
“Today, you should be very proud of yourselves. Take a moment today to recognize your accomplishments,” Good said. “Next, it’s time to go help heal the world.”
Kyle Rarey, Ph.D., UF College of Medicine professor of anatomy and cell biology, was presented with a plaque from the class of 2018 before speaking about his relationship with the 59 members of the class of 2018.
“I can recall so vividly when a member of your class stood up and told me, ‘We want to learn, not memorize.’ I feel so lucky to have crossed paths with all of you,” Rarey said. “You have impressed me with those invisible, intangible attributes you possess: discipline, courage, perseverance. These attributes will get you through all of your future endeavors.”
When Nations looks back at the education she’s received over the last two years, her fondest memories are the experiences she’s shared with patients. As she recalls the first time she helped deliver a baby, emotion plays around her eyes.
“That was an incredible experience, and later on, the baby’s aunt recognized me on campus and thanked me for taking care of her sister,” she said. “That was doubly special.”
Being able to experience the direct impact of patient care makes Nations, a mother of four, confident she has chosen the best career path for her talents and skills.
“My second clinical year confirmed for me that I’ve made the right choices. This is where I need to be,” she said. “Even if I can’t always fix people, it still feels good to do the job right. There’s a quote I turn to: ‘We can’t always cure people, but we can heal them.’”
After Nations takes her board examinations in July, she plans to work part-time in a pediatric emergency department and in women’s health.
“I love empowering women to make their own decisions about reproductive health,” she said. “I also want to be known as an LGBTQ-friendly provider in women’s health. There are a lot of unique situations that come up there, and I believe everyone deserves the best health care.”
No matter where Nations’ career takes her, she will remember the training and camaraderie she was a part of at the UF School of Physician Assistant Studies.
“My family, classmates and faculty have been so supportive of me for years. I’m very grateful for the education I received here,” she said. “Graduation isn’t about what I did. It’s more like, look at what we did as a village.”