After two strokes, PA student aims to make patients her priority

Woman stands in front of health care facility, smiling
Sarah Pasquine, M.P.H., stands in front of Northwoods General Practice in Sherman, Maine.

Sarah Pasquine (M.S.P.A., ’22) never considered a career in medicine. She was to become a public health researcher and study health disparities between populations.

But after suffering two strokes — one during her undergraduate studies and another while studying for her Master of Public Health degree at Columbia University — her perspective began to change. After the second neurological event, Pasquine underwent two brain surgeries before returning to her hometown of Presque Isle to recover. She lost her speech and mobility and had to use Zoom to finish the last three months of her graduate degree.

Later, while researching neurosurgery, she was given the unique opportunity to work alongside her own neurosurgeon and witness him perform, on another patient, the very same life-saving procedure that saved her own life.

“That was really when the light switch flipped on in my mind that medicine was for me,” Pasquine reflected. “I realized that I had a connection with these patients. It’s one thing to be able to treat them, but it’s another to know exactly how they’re feeling and what they’re going through. That’s how I fell in love with patient care.”

To follow her newfound passion, Pasquine enrolled in the University of New England’s Master of Science in Physician Assistant (M.S.P.A.) program, the only such program in Maine, to pursue a second master’s degree.

When she graduates next spring, Pasquine looks forward to working with rural and underserved populations to help mitigate health disparities across Maine. It’s a passion she has held since her childhood. Growing up in far northern Maine, the daughter of a nurse practitioner and a physician assistant, rural health care is, arguably, in her blood.

And she’s already getting a crash-course in the trials and tribulations of rural medicine, having recently completed a clinical rotation at Northwoods General Practice in Sherman, a remote town in Maine’s Aroostook County.

“Rural health care is truly unique and something I think all providers should experience,” she said. “We still have paper charts. We have no electronic records. I’m learning how to do a lot with only minimal resources.”

But the small health center — once a bed and breakfast, and at another time a funeral home — serves a grand purpose for the region between Millinocket and Houlton, where poverty is high and other social determinants of health bar access to essential health services.

“The practice is truly a community oriented place,” Pasquine remarked. “People drive people to appointments, even if they don’t know each other. Everyone steps in to help their neighbor, and that’s really inspiring.”