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Pathway to PA: Diane D. Abercrombie, PA-C, PhD

Our Pathway to PA series is back as we interview Diane D. Abercrombie, PA-C, PhD.  When we started this series we were looking for inspirational stories that would inspire people interested in a career in medicine; Dr. Abercrombie's story is certainly inspirational. Pathway to PADiane D. Abercrombie, PA-C, PhD was born the eldest of four children to a single mother. She grew up in rural Alabama with her maternal grandparents and learned at an early age that the only way she could help her mother and others who lived in rural and medically under-served areas was to obtain an education.    She is currently the Program Director and Chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL.  Here is her story:

What was your education route and how you decided on your schools?

I attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and obtained a B.S. degree in Biology in 1985 and a M.A. degree in Education in 1988. My original plan was to attend the School of Public Health at UAB and obtain a doctorate in epidemiology. However, I was diagnosed with SLE at the age of 19 and suffered numerous medical illnesses. I was forced to cease my education as I recuperated from heart surgery. During my convalescence, a very good friend told me about the Physician Assistant profession. He thought it would be perfect for me because he was keenly aware of my passion to provide health promotion and disease prevention messages to vulnerable populations. I decided to apply to Emory University and was accepted in 1992. I knew this was the right path for me. My interview was on Good Friday, 1992 and I felt as though God was giving me a new beginning, a re-birth. He had placed purpose in my life. In 2009 I obtained a PhD in Education to enhance my opportunities to serve the “under-served.”

How long have you been a PA?

I have been a PA since December 1994. I am so proud to be in this profession. It has given me so much and I hope I am returning on Emory’s investment in me. I have spent my life dedicated to working with rural and medically underserved patients. Currently I am working in conjunction with colleagues at my program to increase the numbers of underrepresented minorities (URMs) and veterans in the PA profession. There is a major shortage of URMs in the professional workforce. In working toward this goal, I have uncovered an even greater problem. Those who come from underserved backgrounds and attend institutions of higher learning are declining. Many of these students are not prepared to bridge the gap between high school and college. They need mentors and experience a number of barriers. I hope to have a positive impact in the Mobile area in helping these young individuals realize their dreams. I believe education is a “right,” not a priviledge.

Did you ever consider becoming an MD or another career in medicine?

I came from a very small rural high school. The only professions I knew about were doctor and nurse. It was only when I attended UAB that I became aware of the public health arena. I am still contemplating a Masters in Public Health. I want to have all the requisite skill sets to provide effective intervention and prevention messages to the underserved.

Did you have a mentor?

I have been blessed to have several mentors during life’s travels. The mentor depended upon the stage of my life. If I have to choose one however, it would have to be my grandparents. They taught me that I could do anything and that God gave everyone at least one talent. They encouraged me to determine what that talent was and use it to edify others and not myself. They taught me never to let my circumstances become my story in life. I am grateful to my later grandmother Minnie, and my 100 year old grandfather Rev. George P. Kornegay for showing me the way.

What are your biggest professional challenges?

My biggest professional challenge is having the funding to develop so many needed programs for young kids who come from high schools that are unable to adequately prepare them for college. Our kids need summer enrichment programs, peer mentors, and others to help them navigate the world of higher education. If you are the only person in your family to attend college, it can be very scary. There is so much I want to accomplish.

If you could change any decisions you made along the way what would they be?

In retrospect, I would not change any decisions I've made along the way because the culmination of the positive and oftentimes very negative consequences of those decisions is what shapes the Diane D. Abercrombie today. I am a product of my good decisions and bad decisions. I like the caring, compassionate person God has evolved in me.

What advice would you give a pre-med student or anyone trying to choose between being a PA and another medical profession?

For any young person who is seeking a medical profession it is important to match your skills sets to the profession.  It is important to be in a career field that mirrors your personality where you can have the greatest impact. Many young people are focused on money, and yes, having a good salary is important, but money truly does not buy happiness. It is true that you have found your purpose when you would do your job for free. I understand what that message means. I don’t think it means, “Free” in the literal sense; but that you don’t worry about counting the hours, minutes, and seconds you work towards your purpose. You are willing to go above and beyond and do whatever it takes. Young people need a plan for how to get from point A to point B. Life doesn’t just happen. You need a plan, you need to work your plan, and you need to be willing to adjust the plan if need be.  I could go on, but finally, be your own best cheerleader. Have internal motivation and be willing to work hard. Don’t count on someone else to do for you what you should do for yourself.   If you are a PA and would like to be interviewed for our Pathway to PA series, please email us here. email us here.