Alec Fields, a former fleet Marine force hospital corpsman, discovered a passion for medicine while in charge of the health and wellbeing of the Marines with whom he was stationed in Afghanistan.
“I always knew I wanted to do something in medicine or in the medical field,” Fields said. “I loved the experience. It was something I got direction from.”
When Fields separated from the United States Navy, he was armed with real-world health care experience and expertise, but he felt there were a lack of options for non-traditional students like him who sought careers in the civilian world.
“That young, and without a college degree, I was able to do things that I didn’t need a degree to do,” he said of his time in the service. “But you are actually very limited in your options of what you can actually get out of the Navy as a hospital corpsman.”
That led him to pursue the field of physician assistant studies which has its roots in North Carolina and supported veterans like him. He is a first-year student in the Physician Assistant Studies program in the Department of Allied Health Sciences.
“It’s very refreshing that UNC values my experience,” Fields said. “The fact that this program takes students like me, and non-traditional students, and people who didn’t go right through school and wind up here; I think that’s a huge benefit, and it made me feel a lot more confident applying to this program.”
Paul Chelminski, the division’s director, said non-traditional students like Fields exemplify the mission and vision of the PA program.
“The true measure of our veterans’ excellence is that—despite service and often physical and psychological sacrifice—they model a calm, reassuring confidence in the educational and professional environment.”
Fields is set to graduate in December 2020; he is the first person in his family to have a bachelor’s degree and the first to pursue a master’s degree. Fields said he strives to be an example to his siblings and his two children.
“My path to get here was a lot longer and not necessarily a straight road, I’m still here and still working on it,” Fields said.
After he graduates from the program in May 2020, Fields hopes to continue working in the medical profession and begin work in eastern North Carolina.
Fields is a Blue Cross NC Physician Assistant scholar, which has provided him with scholarship support during his time as a student.
“Minimizing that [student loans] is going to relieve a lot of the stress that I’m going to deal with after school when I get my first job and have to start paying off my student debt.”
Paul Roman Chelminski, MD, MPH, FACP, has directed the PA program since its inception in 2015. The Department of Allied Health Sciences is housed in the UNC School of Medicine.
—Abigail Turner, Web and Content Developer Intern