Health science at Valparaiso University allows students the flexibility to explore many career paths or graduate school programs, both clinical and non-clinical, by providing a foundation of interdisciplinary knowledge.

Many students, like Joseph “Joey” Hess III ’20 and Gianna Prucha ’21, study health science due to its direct admittance into the master of science in physician assistant studies program, but they discover a future-affirming undergraduate program in the process.

“After looking into different programs, I knew I wanted to pursue a profession that was more focused on the human connection,” Joey says. “I like the hands-on approach that health science offers and the ability to spend more time with patients as a physician assistant.”

After researching other programs, Gianna’s decision to study health science at Valpo was an easy one.

“You can’t find a program like Valpo’s anywhere else,” Gianna says. “I didn’t know health science was a degree until I came here, but it’s been advantageous to see both sides of the health care field through the science and anatomy aspects as well as the administrative and legal ones.”

Joey and Gianna both attributed the field experiences required for health science students as a major benefit to their Valpo education. These observational roles are conducted each summer and allow health science students to gain experience with a variety of health care fields and discover their fields of interest.

After her first year, Gianna shadowed a family practice physician. “I had no interest in family medicine going into the summer, but after shadowing him for a full summer, I changed my mind and learned I needed to keep an open mind about my future,” Gianna says.

This past summer she shadowed a COVID-19 task force for a school district in the suburbs of Chicago. She was able to watch as the group planned ways to keep their students and staff safe and healthy in the face of a global pandemic.

Joey found it difficult to find connections to doctors or physician assistants (PAs) after his first year at Valpo, so he instead volunteered at hospital near his hometown in Michigan.

“I actually gained a lot more than I thought I would in that experience,” Joey says. “I made friends with the nurses in the surgery department, and one nurse practitioner allowed me to observe a variety of new procedures from the removal of gall bladders to colonoscopies. Because of those connections, I actually stayed longer than what was required and volunteered the whole summer.”

Joey has also shadowed a dermatology PA, cardiology PA, and cardiology doctor and spent time observing a physical therapy office. Now halfway through his first year of the physician assistant studies graduate program, Joey is learning more about potential career paths in the field.

Gianna and Joey are keeping their options and minds open as they continue to complete field experiences and look to the clinical year of the PA program, where students rotate through the core health care disciplines, to help discover their future fields.

More so than experiences in the classroom and the field, Joey knows becoming a knowledgeable and compassionate health care provider comes from making the most of the opportunities you’re given.

“The aspects of the health science program I enjoyed the most were the opportunities to grow myself as a person and become a better health professional in the process,” Joey says. “I am always looking for ways to improve myself. Even if an opportunity seems indirectly related to my future goals, I make the most of it.”

Joey is in his first year of the physician assistant program, and Gianna will begin the program this fall after finishing her health science degree. While they each plan to pursue careers as physician assistants, their experiences in the health science major have prepared them for multiple roles in the health care field.