When Tiffany Lam graduated from Union College’s Physician Assistant program in 2012, she didn’t have a favorite part of the elbow. But after ten years of working with one of the top elbow surgeons at the Mayo Clinic, she lights up when asked about the joint. “My favorite part of the elbow is the radial head,” she said. “It’s like a little golf tee.”
Ranked the number one hospital in the United States, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, is known for pioneering research in many different fields. Every day Lam performs preliminary assessments on patients with complicated elbow problems. “I enjoy the complexity of cases we have at the Mayo Clinic,” she said. “The patients I see say, ‘My doctors don’t know what to do with me, so they sent me to you.’” Lam loves telling patients about the options they have for healing. “Working in a place where I can bring hope to people is extraordinary. Jesus’s mission here on earth was to bring hope, so for me to be able to do that in a medical setting is pretty gratifying.”
Lam always knew that she wanted to work in medicine. While she was growing up, her mother worked in physician’s offices. “My after-school care was in the office,” she said. “I was inspired to be a doctor because that was all I knew.” But while Lam was in her junior year of college, she had the opportunity to shadow a PA and see what the profession was all about. “The PA I shadowed was a generous, caring provider. I liked how much time he got to spend with his family. I said, ‘I can’t believe I didn’t know about this profession! This is what I want.’”
Not only are PA programs notoriously hard to get into, but also they can be academically challenging and competitive. Lam was pleasantly surprised by the uplifting attitudes of her classmates at Union. She said, “Competitiveness is something that is really popular in our society. People say, ‘I’m going to do what I’m going to do to get ahead, and if someone goes underneath me while I climb, that’s okay.’ At Union, I had classmates who were encouraging rather than competitive, which was really the most remarkable thing. I have friends from Union that I still meet up with. Their encouragement through a very challenging program was priceless.”
While at Union, Lam didn’t plan on focusing her career on elbows. But God had other ideas. “For one of my preceptorships, I was assigned to a local upper extremity surgeon,” she said. “Most of my other classmates got to do general orthopedic rotations.” But when Lam applied to Mayo Clinic, she had extra experience with upper extremities that made her a desirable candidate for the elbow clinic. “God was leading the way from the beginning,” she said.
“What stands out about Union? It’s opportunities you never expected that come before you because God is present in all aspects of Union’s PA program. I thought I had my plans set, but God placed me in new opportunities every time.”
By Annika Cambigue, a junior English and communication major from Ohio