Penn College Physician Assistant student moves on to Yale Medicine Education

Williamsport, Pa. — One Pennsylvania College of Technology student is blasting off from Physician Assistant student to a position with the Surgical Residency Program at Yale University School of Medicine.

Damaris A. Diaz of Williamsport is set to graduate from Pennsylvania College of Technology with a combined bachelor’s/master’s degree in physician assistant studies this month.

Only about a dozen students are accepted to the Physician Assistance Surgical Residency Program from Norwalk Hospital/Yale University School of Medicine each year. Diaz and her cohorts will begin their 12-month residency on September 12.

As a resident, Diaz will serve as a member of the surgical house staff at Norwalk Hospital, Connecticut, providing 24/7 coverage for all surgical patients. She will participate in all aspects of care during surgery with guidance from PAs on staff and collaborating with doctors.

“The importance of the PA’s role at Norwalk Hospital cannot be overstated. PAs constitute the entire surgical house staff, taking an active role in the assessment, management, and daily care of patients,” the residency’s website states.

Diaz will also participate in off-site rotations to gain a range of experiences and procedural opportunities outside of a hospital setting.

Her year will be divided between Norwalk Hospital and Yale University School of Medicine. The curriculum includes a comprehensive daily lecture series, hands-on instruction, workshops, an animal surgery lab, a cadaver lab, weekly/monthly conferences, case presentations, and multidisciplinary rounds. The program is designed so that the curriculum at one institution effectively complements the other.

Diaz says her love for surgery blossomed during her Penn College education, specifically during a surgery rotation with Dr. Nathalie Lavallee of UPMC Susquehanna Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery.

“Although the didactic year gave me a clear picture of the scope and depth of the field, my surgical rotation revealed the full beauty of surgery to me,” Diaz said. “As a lover of the arts and languages, I appreciated surgery more than any other field of medicine for the way it harmonized art and science.”

She saw the newfound confidence that cancer survivors gained because of reconstructive surgery: “Which was more than just cosmetic,” Diaz said. “Women heartbroken by the devastating news of a new breast cancer diagnosis necessitating a total mastectomy gained hope.”

“I was amazed by how quickly and dramatically our patients’ conditions improved,” she continued. “A patient who had been experiencing agony due to melanoma on her leg was pain-free just a few hours after it was removed. A numb, chilly, and ashen forearm of a patient who had necrotizing fasciitis was miraculously preserved through surgery. These encounters just added to my passion for the field.”

The moment that cemented her dedication to surgery was her first procedure: removing a lipoma from a patient. A lipoma is a fatty lump that is usually found between the skin and underlying muscle.

“It was by no means a big thing, but the unfathomable rush I felt from completing the procedure proved that I truly love surgery,” she said. “I was ecstatic that I could make a real and tangible difference in my patient’s health. It was an exhilarating experience.”

Before enrolling at Penn College, Diaz earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, where she was enrolled in the honors college. Before transferring to UMBC, she was a highly involved student at Montgomery College, where, among her roles, she was a student senate vice president.

She has also served as a certified medical interpreter for several organizations, currently with Comprehensive Language Access Solutions and previously for the National Institutes of Health, Children’s National Medical Center, and Liberty Language Services. She was a legal interpreter for Ad Astra, a community interpreter for the International Refugee Committee, and a school interpreter for the Northern Virginia Area Health Education Center. She has also been an adult English as a second language instructor.

She’s also a mom, accustomed to a round-the-clock workload.

“I have weathered many storms in my life, including the birth of my daughter during my didactic year (at Penn College),” Diaz said. “I believe that I have matured enough emotionally and professionally to be able to handle the challenges of surgery. This 12-month program is demanding, but also thorough and rewarding. I have three children, but I believe that managing both is entirely possible.”

“We are extremely proud of Damaris and her accomplishments during PA school,” said Joshua A. Bower, director of Penn College’s physician assistant program. “Navigating the demands of our program in terms of the workload and time commitment is difficult in and of itself, but to do it while managing a household and a newborn is extremely challenging.

“To be accepted into the Norwalk/Yale surgical residency program is a great honor, and we have no doubt that Damaris is up to the task,” Bower continued. “As preparation for this opportunity, Damaris completed our Principles of Emergency Medicine & General Surgery course during her didactic year and participated in surgical experiences during her surgery internship, women’s health internship and elective internship during her clinical year of the program.”

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