Nicole Groff is among the alumni living and working in the Atlanta area who are featured in the fall/winter 2018-19 Crossroads magazine.
Tell us about your current studies at Emory University and your future plans in the medical field.
I am studying global health at the Rollins School of Public Health. I am in the dual-degree track with the physician assistant (PA) program, which means I spend one year studying public health and the next two and a half years in the physician assistant program. When I was in Mennonite Central Committee’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program in Papua, Indonesia (2014-15), I saw how public health was so important, but I also realized that I needed some concrete skills. I wanted to work with individuals and have impact on preventing disease at the population level. Bill Foege, a former director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), calls this “being able to see both the numerator and the denominator.” I think that this program fits me very well because I love learning about complex issues and prevention, but am also looking forward to having the clinical, personal skills of a PA.
Why Emory University?
Emory is located just north of Atlanta, right next to the CDC and not far from other organizations like CARE [a global humanitarian organization] and the Carter Center. In a lot of ways Emory reminds me of EMU—inspiring professors, care for environmental sustainability, and care for the underserved. However, Emory is a big, private, research university, which is very different than EMU. It’s exciting as a student to have professors and guest lecturers who are involved in emerging research and activism, and who inspire you to keep asking big, engaging, and critical questions. There are endless opportunities, which is intimidating and exciting all at the same time. I think more EMU students should come check out Emory! The campus is beautiful, and you can see the Atlanta skyline from parts of campus.
After graduating from high school, what did you think you wanted to do and how did your academic experience at EMU help with that goal?
I went to EMU for its quality pre-med program but realized in sophomore year that I wasn’t quite ready to make the necessary sacrifices needed to focus on getting into medical school. In my life sciences practicum class my junior year, I shadowed a PA and that planted the idea of becoming a PA.
EMU also helped me to explore my different interests—I took classes and became involved in peacebuilding, psychology and religion. I also took “Sociology of Health,” which is what initially drew me to be interested in public health.
What extracurriculars did you get involved in and how did that shape your EMU experience?
I was involved in a lot—probably too much. I was president of Alpha Omega Dancers for Christ, which gave me a platform to combine my love of worship and movement. I played intramural soccer, was involved with the Third Culture Kids (TCK) club and did some volunteering. I was a community advisor in Elmwood and Hillside, a pastoral assistant, and a community assistant with the Summer Peacebuilding Institute. Many of these experiences taught me a lot about myself and others, how to lead, plan, budget, mentor and express myself. These experiences stretched me and strengthened me.
Tell us about the competitive application process for PA school. What do you think set you apart?
I spent a lot of time thinking about why I wanted to be a PA, and what kind of school I wanted to go to. I spent several months studying for the GRE (to improve my score the second time) and shadowed a PA. I also gained many hours of clinical experience working for 2.5 years as a certified nursing assistant at a low-income nursing home. I applied to three dual-degree (PA/MPH) programs and four regular PA programs and got accepted into all three dual-degree programs and one of the regular PA programs.
I think the fact that I was interested in public health set me apart. Coming from a Mennonite background, growing up in Cambodia and living in Papua (volunteering with an HIV/AIDS support group) made me a pretty unique candidate. I also did a whole lot of praying and asking people to pray with me.
What advice would you have for EMU Pre-Professional Health Sciences students?
Keep at it. Studying all the time can feel overwhelming, but know that it is only for a time—just part of the journey that you will get through. Don’t feel that you have to be self-motivating; there are days that you will need someone else to tell you that you can do it. If you have doubts, talk to people who are in that field, or someone you trust to help encourage you.
I would also recommend getting experience after college, even if it is working a menial and hard job like a nursing assistant. Having real-life (and very difficult) experiences has made my graduate-level classes so much more interesting because I now have context and examples to apply to what I’m learning. Also, don’t be afraid of grad school—it’s not all that much harder than EMU sciences.
Any particular shout-outs to EMU profs who were influential?
First, the individuals who wrote my letters of recommendation must have said something good and I am so grateful for them. All of my biology and chemistry professors, including my advisor, Roman Miller [now emeritus professor], were influential by always challenging but encouraging us. Brian Martin Burkholder and other Campus Ministries staff helped me to develop and articulate my faith, which helps me to envision a better world. Professor Carolyn Stauffer inspired me to be passionate and speak truth. And so many others—this list could get very long—of profs and mentors along the way who made learning exciting, who showered an encouraging word over me, and were committed to the quality education of EMU.