By Pamela Martineau
Alicia Austerman, School of PA Studies, ’18, knows firsthand the critical role PAs play in patient care. It was a PA who made Austerman’s journey through cancer less clinical and more humane.
“I wasn’t a number to him,” Austerman says of the PA who attended to her during her cancer treatment. “The whole process (with cancer) showed me I wanted to go into medicine to be that kind of provider.”
Austerman’s journey through cancer began when she was an 18-year-old college
freshman at Arizona State University. She was studying one day and noticed some
bumps on her arm. She had it checked out and was ultimately diagnosed with a
very rare form of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Her form of the disease was so rare, it
was only the 23rd case that had been seen in the entire Mayo Clinic system.
The next years of Austerman’s life were a haze of medical treatments –
chemotherapy, radiation, hospitalizations. She tried to carry on her undergraduate
studies throughout it all, but at times had to stop.
“The second I was cleared, I immediately got a wig and got back into college,” she
says, adding that she has been in remission for 10 years.
Her time in medical treatment taught her the power of PAs and the impact a good
health care provider can have on a patient.
“When you are being treated like that, you experience the good and the bad of the
health care system,” she says. “And you sometimes meet people who change your
“I had a good physician, but they don’t have a lot of time,” she says, adding that her
PA was able to spend more quality time with her and her mother.
“The PAs would come into the room first, and they would leave the room last,” she
Both Austerman and her then-boyfriend (now-husband) experienced a life change
because of her treatment. Both are now pursuing a career in medicine. He is a
neurosurgeon completing his seven-year residency in Houston. They have a long-distance relationship.
“We both took a 180-degree turn and decided we wanted to go into medicine and help people,” she says.
Austerman grew up in both Minnesota and Arizona, splitting time between her parents’ houses. Once she went into remission, she pursued her education fiercely, earning an undergraduate degree and then later a master’s degree in global medicine from the University of Southern California. But her goal remained becoming a PA. She says she
chose to study at Ketchum University because of its solid reputation and her decision was cemented once she stepped on campus.
“When I stepped on the campus I had a really good feeling about it,” she says. “I felt like it was a place you could really grow as a person.”
“The professors really do a good job,” she says of MBKU. “They make you want to learn and work harder.”
Austerman hasn’t chosen a specialty yet, but has enjoyed working in neurology and orthopedics. She and her husband enjoy traveling and have been to Ireland, England and the Dominican Republic. They have worked at orphanages in the Dominican Republic.
Her journey with cancer brought some unexpected gifts too. Perspective is one of them. “I don’t take things for granted,” she says. “Bad things can happen, but in the end, good things can come out of it.”