Physician Assistant '01
A Daemen alumnus who’s excited about where her career has taken her as well, and where she’s going, is Staci Carter-Kelly, a 2001 graduate of the college’s physician assistant program. Where that career has led her is a long way from Western New York, and from Indiana, where she grew up.
Staci’s a physician assistant (PA) in… Mongolia! Daemen College’s mission declares, in part, that Daemen-educated students will “be comfortable with diversity and will recognize the importance of a global perspective.” That line seems to have been written directly with Staci in mind. Her medical work for the Peace Corps in such a far-off destination has enhanced her awareness of how important a global outlook is today.
“It is fabulous to be able to experience someone else’s culture and live as a guest in their country – to recognize our similarities and experience the interconnectedness of the world,” says Carter-Kelly. “I wish all Americans could have this experience and start to view themselves as world citizens, because that is really what we are.”
In her case, she’s also a world-class physician assistant whose work in this northern Asian country presents interesting challenges. She currently works in the capital city of Ulan Bator, where her responsibilities include providing Western standard medical care to Peace Corps volunteers serving in this developing country, which is about the size of Alaska. Carter-Kelly does the basic history, physical, labs, work-up, assessment, and patient plan.
“It’s unique in that I have to rely a great deal more on my history and physical exam skills because lab and diagnostic equipment is not readily available in country,” she points out.
“A lot of forethought focuses on volunteer placement and accessibility so that we can access them in a reasonable amount of time in an emergency.”
Speaking of emergencies, she recalls the time when a volunteer was at a nightclub and became exposed to an unknown chemical that turned out to be very potent chlorine. She smelled it for just a brief moment, but unfortunately it was concentrated enough to cause acute chemically-induced pneumonitis.
“She was in Ulan Bator and called me at 4 a.m.,” Carter-Kelly remembers. “I had her come to the clinic by taxi. Her history and physical exam were consistent with pulmonary edema and bronchospasm. We initiated treatment at the Peace Corps clinic and arranged transfer to the SOS clinic. There we continued symptomatic management, and a chest X-ray revealed florid pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs). We arranged transfer out of the country and ultimately the volunteer was flown to Seoul, Korea, for further evaluation in a western standard hospital and consultation with a pulmonologist.”
Carter-Kelly says the case was especially difficult because it happened in the evening, and unlike what we’re accustomed to in the U.S., there’s no western standard of emergency care in Mongolia, which is located between the former republic of Russia and China. As a result, the case really put the Daemen graduate to the test.
“I had to do a thorough history and physical without labwork or X-ray capabilities,” she says. “Once I determined the volunteer was sicker than we could handle in country, I had to call and get people out of bed to open the clinic so we could
more thoroughly evaluate her and prepare her for medical evacuation.” She adds, “I believe that Daemen has an excellent PA program. It’s left me incredibly well-prepared for my work. I don’t think it’s possible to graduate and be prepared for everything that you’ll see. Medicine is way too complex and diverse for that.
But Daemen gave me a great foundation to build on.” Staci and her partner have a 4-year-old daughter, and when she discusses life in Mongolia, the country’s children come quickly to mind.
“The worst thing for me has been the poverty,” she says of Mongolia, which features the Gobi desert in the south and, in the east, the steppe – a flat, dry area “where you can look in all directions without seeing a landmark.”
She says it’s difficult to see street children who live in the sewers for warmth (in the winter it’s about minus 30 degree centigrade) “and beg for food because they’re hungry. In some ways, I don’t think America is all that different. As a country we’re much wealthier, but we also have many people who live in abject poverty. However, we tend to isolate them in urban areas and then build highways around them, so we are not confronted with it on a daily basis like you are in Mongolia.”
Staci’s global perspective springs from a kind of strategy she and her family set out to implement. When she originally signed on with the Peace Corps, she requested Africa, not Asia. But at the time there was an opening in Mongolia, so she seized the opportunity. Choosing the Peace Corps is consistent with her desire to gain a global view of the human condition.
“My family and I wanted to experience living in a developing country first-hand,” she states. “We are very interested in the interconnectedness of the world community and wanted to experience being outside of America, versus continuing with a purely intellectual understanding. We struggle with how to raise our daughter to be a respectful, compassionate person. We want her to be proud of where she comes from, but also humble and respectful.”
Carter-Kelly – true to the Daemen College mission of pursuing goals beyond one’s initial expectations – believes that, “with the power and wealth we have (in America) also comes a great responsibility, and I don’t think we’re meeting that responsibility in a world view. I hope our daughter grows up understanding she is from America, but is also a citizen of the world. And with the understanding that all the choices she makes in life impact other people.
“Some people impacted will be in her immediate community,” she continues, “others will live in the far corners of the world. But all decisions have far-reaching implications, and people outside of America are not ‘the others.’ We are all human beings worthy of love, dignity, and respect.”
Contracted through the summer of 2006, she says she then intends to return to Plattsburgh, New York, where she practiced family medicine before applying to the Peace Corps. She plans to “settle back into primary care medicine and dedicate my life at the grass-roots level, trying to effect change one patient at a time. I love teaching, and will try to get more involved with that in the future.”
While some might consider living in Mongolia about as far from one’s comfort zone as you could possibly get, for Staci Carter-Kelly it’s been a life-changing lesson you just don’t learn in a classroom. “This experience has indeed changed us and been absolutely positive,” she declares. “I would recommend that all people spend some time where they’re outside of their comfort zone, their culture’s norms, truly experiencing the world as community – not ‘us’ versus ‘them’.”