PA Class of 2022 Student Spotlight: Helen Cheng

Cheng's WhyWhy did you want to become a PA?

After graduating from college, I was determined to learn medicine and become a provider, but I didn’t know which career choice was the best fit for me. I worked three different part-time health carerelated jobs simultaneously for two years and enjoyed the variety of medicine, practice setting, and teamwork that each job setting offered. I realized that I did not want to limit myself to one specialty because my interests go beyond just one. I decided to pursue the PA profession because I will be able to work in different specialties, and I value the collaborative nature of the profession to provide the best care to patients. 

What was your patient care experience like before coming to the Duke Physician Assistant Program? How did that help you prepare for your time here?

I was a family practice clinical medical assistant, an emergency room medical scribe, and a receptionist in an optometry office for two years. With my exposure to different types of medicine, I used my personal stories to help myself and my classmates understand concepts during our time at Duke. Here at Duke, each student comes from a diverse health care background, and learning from each other is one of my favorite ways to learn.

What made you decide to run for Stead Society President, and what are you most proud of during your tenure?

Since the 5th grade, I have loved being involved in organizations and taking up a leadership role. And so, being part of the PA Student Society organization was a big goal of mine when I got into Duke. I enjoy forming relationships with members and other leaders and planning events that will benefit our students and our community. Since our class of 2022 began our PA studies in a virtual classroom, I found it even more necessary to be involved and do all I can to make our experience the best it can be. I am most proud of my transparency and open communication during my time as President. Communication during virtual studies was new and difficult for a lot of us. I made it a personal mission of mine to always be open-minded to all of my classmates’ questions and concerns and always show my support for the amazing job each of us does. I am very proud of and thankful for our Stead Society officers and the class of 2022 for doing our best during these unprecedented times.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time as a PA student?

Other than studying and exploring Durham with my classmates, my favorite memory is our first in-person event as a whole program – the DPAP Picnic Social last year! We went through a year of distanced and virtual learning where only about a quarter of students could be at the building at any one time, and access to meeting faculty and staff in person was limited. This social was not only a celebration of the completion of our first year in PA school but also an opportunity for the DPAP family to be together, physically, in one space! We played games on the lawn, enjoyed shaved ice, and even danced under the summer sun! All year we, the DPAP family, have been doing our best to find ways to host in-person events, and I am so thankful that we got to celebrate together at the picnic.

How has the program’s mission shaped your plans and goals?

When I entered the program, my plans and goals were to become a primary care PA – and it still is! Duke has helped me to solidify my decision each time I completed a rotation so far. The dedication and knowledge of each preceptor I was fortunate to work alongside with were beyond what I could have imagined. We often hear the difficulty of managing multiple chronic health issues and the daunting idea of understanding a broad range of medical conditions in primary care. While that can be true, there is also the joy of taking part of a patient’s journey to a healthier lifestyle. We do not often talk about the incredible impact primary care providers have on individuals and their families. Having the opportunity to witness the deep bonds my preceptors have with their patients is an experience that motivates me each day to become a competent provider for my future patients and their families.

Reasons prospective students should consider the Duke PA program?

The Duke PA program is a team of faculty and staff who are fully dedicated to their students’ success and well- being. They are constantly advocating for the betterment of our education as well as for the future of the PA profession. Duke is such a strong academic institution that so many of Duke’s alumni have become amazing providers and come back to teach the next generation of providers. Also, another reason to consider Duke’s PA Program is that the diversity of students each year is unmatched. With such a wide range of not only medical backgrounds but also cultural backgrounds, students have learning inside but also outside of the classroom. I have not only learned so much about medicine but also so much about the different struggles, excitements, and daily lives of my classmates. I have gained new perspectives and understanding of those who live differently from myself which is just as important as learning in the classroom.

What have you learned while being a PA student during the COVID-19 pandemic that you will carry with you into your career?

My time being a PA student during the pandemic has taught me to be kind to myself and to others. As a student, I became frustrated with myself when I wasn’t performing at the level I had hoped but with the encouragement from my advisor and classmates, I learned to treat myself with kindness. We all need to support and be kind to one another in order to get through the hard times. As a provider, I will be there to support my patients and remind them to also be kind to themselves as they work hard on their journey to living healthier lives.


Return to Summer 2022 Alumni Newsletter