Michigan might be Samantha Sparrow’s home state, but Iowa has become her new favorite state. The graduate of the University of Iowa physician assistant program will practice in the Hawkeye State, and plans to be active in recruiting younger people to consider careers as a PA.

 

Samantha Sparrow didn’t grow up in Iowa, but a specialty program at the University of Iowa brought her to the state where she’s put down new roots.

“I really found a home in Iowa,” says Sparrow, a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan, who graduates in December with a Master’s in physician assistant studies from the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

“When I was considering grad schools, I knew I’d look at Iowa because I wanted to be a part of that community again, I found the professors and the staff at Iowa really cared about your success and they help you with all the support you need.”

Samantha Sparrow
receiving her Master's in Physician Assistant Studies

Sparrow first moved to Iowa in 2012 to attend Cornell College in Mount Vernon as an undergraduate. After earning degrees in biochemistry and molecular biology, she left for the University of Chicago to begin her career as a laboratory researcher, thinking Iowa was part of her past. 

Samantha Sparrow

Degree: Master’s in physician assistant studies and certification as a physician assistant

Hometown: Kalamazoo, Michigan

Plans after graduation: Working as a PA in University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics and, later, in a nearby rural hospital while supporting her husband, Andrew Metzger, who will begin his own PA studies in fall 2019.

Fun fact: She was elected by her fellow PA students as president of the Rex Montgomery Physician Assistant Student Society, the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine’s PA student organization

But she soon started to miss the state, with its slower pace of life and friendly and helpful people, she began to wonder if there was a way she might return. Meanwhile, her work as a genetic sequencing technician took an unexpected turn. While much of the work involved laboratory research, a portion also was spent in the clinic, surveying pancreatic cancer patients about their health and quality of life. It was emotionally fraught—most of the patients were terminal and in their final months. But Sparrow liked working with people whom she got to know, not abstract figures in a lab, and she admired their emotional strength. 

“They know their diagnosis and they knew the survey wasn’t going to help them, but they were doing it anyway to help other people,” she says. “People are at their best when they’re nearing the end.”

The experience convinced her that she, too, wanted to pursue a career in which she could help others. So, after two years in Chicago, she decided to become a physician assistant. Choosing a school was easy. The UI stood out in two obvious ways:

  • The Carver College of Medicine’s PA training program is consistently ranked among the top two in the country.
  • UI is located in her new favorite state. 

 

“When I was considering grad schools, I knew I’d look at Iowa because I wanted to be a part of that community again,” she says. “I found the professors and the staff at Iowa really cared about your success and they help you with all the support you need.”

She found that to be true early in the 28-month PA program when she struggled with depression. When she opened up to her colleagues, she says they expressed nothing but concern for her well-being and a willingness to help out.

“Everyone was very supportive and the university’s mental health services were very helpful and I was able to move through it,” she says.

She’s had several rotations in UIHC, as well as one in Sioux City, Iowa, and at a hospital in Bieber, California. She found the remote Old West town of about 300 about as different as you can get from Iowa. 

“It was a culture shock, but I learned to communicate in different ways with lots of different people,” she says. 

Carol Gorney, director of clinical education in the PA program and Sparrow’s faculty advisor, says her positive and people-centered attitude has\ made her a dream to work with. 

“She’s grown into a leadership role in her class and always makes sure everyone feels supported and welcome,” says Gorney. “She’s been very open about her struggles early in the program and she tells other students who may face similar challenges that they can find help like she did. She has a lot of tenacity and resilience and she does what it takes to be successful.

Gorney says Sparrow always was the first to organize volunteer efforts at local clinics or fundraisers to support organizations in need. Her effervescent personality and tenacity will help when she starts her career. 

“She’s very people-centered, and that will translate well into a patient-centered practice,” says Gorney. “She’s very open, and that encourages patients to be open with her.”

Sparrow has had such a great experience that her husband, Andrew Metzger, decided to enroll in the UI’s PA program too. A Marshalltown, Iowa, native, he plans to start the PA program in fall 2019 after completing a research assignment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. 

Sparrow is not planning to leave her adopted home state anytime soon. She has accepted a job in the Intensive Care Unit of the UI Hospitals & Clinics starting in February 2019, and she and Andrew purchased a home in nearby South Amana. 

She also plans to help fill some of Iowa’s most glaring health care needs. The state may face a serious shortage of PAs in the coming decade, as about 30 percent of Iowa’s current workforce is age 52 or older and soon will begin retiring. Because PAs are a critical part of providing patient care in areas that are underserved by physicians, this looming shortage could make health care in rural areas even more inaccessible.

Of this year’s class of 24 graduates, Sparrow is one of at least seven who will remain in Iowa to practice. She says she also plans to take a second job in an emergency room in a rural hospital that is most in need of such a provider. Her goal is to become to certified in different areas of practice so she can be of use wherever the need is greatest. She also plans to be active in recruiting younger people to consider careers as a PA through the Iowa Physician Assistant Society.

“I want to get the younger generation more involved with policy and show the need to be able to keep young providers in the state,” she says.

Get to know the University of Iowa’s fall 2018 graduates.

Produced by the Office of Strategic Communication.
Writer
Tom Snee
Photography
Tim Schoon