Student Shelby Caban sat down with The Box to talk about the health obstacles she faced growing up and how they led her to wanting to become a physician assistant (PA).
You have a remarkable story of survival. Can you talk a little bit about your background? How did it affect your interest in your chosen field?
I was born with a rare heart disease called restrictive cardiomyopathy, which ultimately put me into end-stage heart failure at only ten years old. When I was diagnosed, I was immediately placed on the national organ transplant list because the only way to keep me alive was for me to receive a new heart. I was forced to live in the hospital for two months waiting for my new heart. My experience as a patient at such a young age inspired me to go into the medical field. It was surreal to me at first, but my new home intrigued me. I would ask my doctors and nurses so many questions. I knew from then on that this field was where I belonged. Unfortunately, nine years later as a sophomore in college, I was diagnosed with a rare form of post-transplant Lymphoma, a known complication of the immunosuppression medications I take on a daily basis. I was only 19 years old when I was faced with my second life-threatening challenge—cancer. Undergoing almost a year of chemotherapy, and once again being hospitalized, further sparked my interest in the medical field. I knew that being a PA was what I was meant to do. After being a patient in a bed for so long I am now able to be on the other side of the patient’s bed with a unique perspective one would only understand being a patient themselves.
Tell me more about that. How does your experience influence your interactions with people who you are helping?
I know what it is like to be a patient and to be very ill, so I always keep that in mind when I am helping people. I have so much empathy because even though I may have experienced a different health problem than them, I know how nervous they may be and how they need special care and attention when things are explained to them so they truly understand what they are going through. The same goes for helping the patient’s family as well. The patient and their family both require special care and generosity.
Why did you choose NYIT?
I was lucky enough to have been accepted into multiple PA programs allowing me the opportunity to decide what school was best for me. NYIT stood out to me in many ways. It is one of the few three-year programs in the country (as opposed to a more standard two-year program), which allows us to have a break over the summer and more time to dive deep into our medical studies. The program also offers a full dissection cadaver lab and simulation lab to practice patient encounters. Overall, with NYIT’s great reputation and everything else it has to offer—along with being close to home—I knew it was the best choice for me.
At ten years old, Shelby Caban was diagnosed with a rare heart disease. She is now in her final year of the physician assistant program and hopes to one day make a difference in the lives of sick children.
What do you like most about your field of study?
Working with patients excites me the most. I chose this field so that I can hopefully make a difference in the lives of people who are sick. In my opinion, one of the most important things about being a health-care provider is having empathy and treating the patient as a person, not just a medical case in a textbook. Being able to understand what they are going through and putting myself in their shoes is the type of provider I aim to be.
What do you have coming up now that you're in your last year in the program?
I graduate this upcoming May and I couldn’t be more excited! Right now I am doing my clinical rotations. We have to do a year of clinical rotations in all different areas of medicine including, family practice, internal medicine, general surgery, orthopedics, pediatrics, OBGYN, emergency medicine, and psychiatry. I go to a hospital or office daily to work and learn. A couple of my rotations have been in a more underserved area. This has been very interesting to me and I enjoyed being able to help those who are underserved. It is inspiring. Clinical rotations really enhance everything we have learned in the classroom over the past two years.
What is next for you?
I would like to be a physician assistant in a pediatric subspecialty. I am most inspired by my personal health experiences as a heart transplant recipient and as a cancer patient. My overall goal is to make a difference in the lives of sick kids.
People are often surprised to find out that I also want to write a book. I’ve had this goal since I was a child. When I graduate from PA school that will be the next dream that I hope to achieve.
What advice do you have for first-year students at NYIT?
The best advice I can give is to work hard! I know it’s tough for some students to decide what career is best for them, but giving yourself the best opportunity by doing well in all of your classes will be helpful in the long run. Let yourself take the most out of every class, even if you think it doesn’t interest you at the moment.
This interview has been edited and condensed.