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Just what the physician assistant ordered

Tennessee Wesleyan experience meets and exceeds senior’s expectations

Kasey Combs was looking for an undergraduate program that would prepare her for the “real world” and also challenge her as she studied for a health care-related career.

She knew for a fact that Tennessee Wesleyan University could deliver on both requirements.

Combs’s proof? Her mother, Stacy Combs, an elementary school teacher at Polk County Schools in Benton, Tennessee, and a 2000 TWU alumna.

“My mother still speaks about how well the education program prepared her to be the teacher she is today,” Combs said. “I can say that I agree because I am enrolled in Lincoln Memorial University’s physician assistant program and will be a PA in 2020.”

All this will help the graduating senior from Benton, Tennessee, get closer to her ultimate goal of serving as a PA in a rural area such as her hometown in the southeast corner of the state.

“I am very passionate about educating and working in underserved areas,” Combs said. “Ideally, I would love to work in my hometown.”

INSIDE THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE CAREER

While at TWU, Combs majored in biology and earned a minor in chemistry. She was interested in becoming a health care provider, but it took the advice of her biology professor Dr. Grant Willhite (now the Vice President of Academic Affairs) to help her discover a specific path.

Willhite encourages his students to shadow and volunteer alongside someone who is in their field of interest. Combs began volunteering at a walk-in clinic her sophomore year. This gave her some experience and showed what goes on behind the scenes in a medical facility.

“Thankfully, I loved what I saw,” Combs said. “The pre-professional seminar at TWU is great for making students examine themselves and what they need to do to achieve their goals, whatever field they choose.”

An experience inside a TWU microbiology class also helped Combs confirm her career choice. Biology became more palpable to her when she started looking at life under a microscope. This connected what Combs heard about in class to some of the infections she saw as a walk-in clinic volunteer.

“We were able to inoculate and study bacteria that affect the human body, and we learned about the rising problem of antibiotic resistance,” she said. “Always finish your antibiotics, folks.”

And for all the support she received, Combs was committed to returning the favor to fellow students as a peer tutor.

“It’s rewarding when students tell you that they did better on their last exams because they are succeeding at grasping the material,” she said. “Being a peer tutor has been awesome because helping someone else understand material from a class helps you to better understand it as well.”

SPEAKING OF TWU COMMENCEMENT

Combs isn’t taking it easy, even though she has only a week and a half between graduating from TWU and starting graduate school in Harrogate, Tennessee.

In addition to her final exams, Combs is preparing to serve as one of the speakers at the TWU commencement ceremony Saturday, May 5.

“My goal is to spread some laughter because laughter really is medicine for the soul,” she said. “I also want to remind everyone what Wesleyan taught us so well: To lead by serving others. It is that mentality that is going to make this world a better place.”

And when she gets her graduation picture in front of the TWU sign, it won’t be the first such photo for Combs. She was 4 years old when her mom graduated from Tennessee Wesleyan.

“I have pictures of us standing in front of the sign with her diploma,” Combs said with a smile.

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