When Samantha Miller (MS/PA '18) was 15, she was a force to be reckoned with on the field-hockey field. A year later, she was at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, receiving treatment for aplastic anemia—a rare condition in which the body stops producing red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
At first, Ms. Miller says she simply felt tired all the time. “I thought maybe I had mono,” she recalled. But as her body became unable to fight off even simple infections, she spent the next 10 years of her life in and out of hospitals, battling the complications associated with her disease.
“I had to take some time off from high school, but I was able to still do the work and graduate on time,” said Ms. Miller, who also graduated from the University of the Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences, with a concentration in physician assistant studies.
“I went to the NIH four times,” she said. “I participated in four clinical trials. I wanted to help myself, but I also wanted to help others who had this disease, too.”
During her last stay at the NIH in 2011, Ms. Miller received a life-saving haplo-identical cord blood stem cell transplant. This consists of a combination of donated cord-blood stem cells, and half-matched cells from a related donor—in Ms. Miller’s case, her father. The cells were used to help facilitate the growth of new, healthy blood cells. She has been in remission ever since the procedure.
Ms. Miller said that her experience with the physician assistants (PAs) who cared for her at the NIH helped solidify her desire to become a PA herself. “They were incredible, they answered all my questions and made me feel safe. I trusted them completely. One in particular—her name was Theresa—really made me want to become a PA. I have always said that I’m going to be her someday.”
Most recently, Ms. Miller completed an emergency medicine rotation at the Tséhootsooí Medical Center in Fort Defiance, Arizona, as part of the Indian Health Service. “It’s a completely different environment,” she explains. On a reservation of maybe 330,000 people, about half have electricity. So that’s something you have to be mindful of as a practitioner—what other factors is your patient dealing with?”
It’s that deeper dive into a patient’s life that is of particular interest to Ms. Miller. “I’m interested in the primary care setting, because you can really get to know your patients and develop a deep rapport with them.”
She recalls the rapport she built with her own PAs while in the hospital. “I experienced the healthcare system first-hand,” she said. “I think that helps me relate to my patients on a deeper level.”