Student Spotlight: Grace Abernathy

Posted on April 12, 2022 by CAHP

Grace Abernathy data-lightbox='featured'

At a young age, professional health sciences student Grace Abernathy dreamed of becoming a math teacher. She grew up in Sylacauga, Alabama, with her parents and younger sister, and it was not until she had the opportunity to participate in a health sciences internship at Sylacauga High School that her dream changed to becoming a healthcare professional.

During that internship, Grace would visit the local hospital and rotate to a new department each week to learn from healthcare professionals working in different settings. One particular series of rotations stood out to her. She visited the medical surgical department one week and the intensive care unit the next. During those rotations, she unexpectedly encountered the same patient, an individual who had experienced difficult challenges after surgery and had rapidly become in need of critical care. Soon after Grace arrived for her rotation in the intensive care unit, the patient passed away alone.

Grace soon realized the importance of care for patients not only physically but also emotionally. She left that internship feeling confident that healthcare was a place she could make an impact on lives with her compassion and stated, “I don’t know how I will help every single person on a spiritual level or internally, but that’s my goal, is to not only heal the external but the internal and to make a connection. I want my patients to feel comfortable if they have something else going on to reach out.”

When it came time to tour college campuses, Grace and her mother made the decision to make the four hour drive down to South for a visit and used it as a good excuse for a beach trip. Grace quickly discovered that South had so much to offer. The close-knit community on campus, beautiful scenery, smaller class sizes and health sciences programs instantly captured her attention.

“The people who gave me my tour just really took time to have a genuine interaction with me, get to know me and make me feel like they wanted me here. I wasn’t just any student coming to tour the University, and that was really special to me,” she shared.

Grace began her freshman year at South majoring in biomedical sciences, but the more she got involved on campus and in the Covey College of Allied Health Professions, the more she discovered the many career opportunities within healthcare. Her attention was quickly drawn to the professional health sciences program as the right path for her to becoming a physician assistant, so she worked with the registrar’s office to change her major. The program’s provision of broad information in health related disciplines and its incorporation of management, marketing and communications classes were important to Grace because of her desire to be able to effectively care for and communicate with patients and their families.

Outside of the classroom, Grace serves as Allied Health Senator with the Student Government Association, President of the Pre-PA Society, President of Phi Mu and as a Southerner with the National Alumni Association. Through her two years with SGA, Grace has helped fund several projects to support her fellow allied health students including the Aunt Flow Project and upgrades to the biomedical sciences student study space. She was also recently initiated into the Sally Steadman Azalea Chapter of Mortar Board, a national honor society of college seniors.

In between studying professional health sciences and being heavily involved in campus life, Grace also works at Compass Urgent Care where she has had the opportunity to learn a lot from healthcare providers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. She has found herself most interested in pediatric care, women’s health and surgery but likes the flexibility that comes with the role of a physician assistant. She expressed, “The great thing about PA is that it’s such a flexible and versatile position. I can really decide on the fly where I want to be and what works for me.”

Grace finds the experience of working in a medical facility while also studying professional health sciences to be invaluable, and it will give her the opportunity to complete the direct patient care hours that are required to apply for a physician assistant studies program one day when she is ready. Between now and graduate school, Grace plans to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in the spring semester of 2023 and would like to take time off to travel internationally and “enjoy the little things in life.”

The Department of Emergency Medical Services offers the Bachelor of Science degree in Professional Health Sciences (PHS) for those students who want to have a well-rounded background in health sciences, but do not wish to pursue a specific professional degree. The program provides broad information in both health related disciplines as well as health informatics and/or management. To learn more about the Professional Health Sciences program, email the Department of EMS.

What’s your favorite place to study on campus?
“2nd floor of Marx in a window seat. I love to people watch.”

What is your best advice for incoming freshmen?
“Take it all in, but don’t lose yourself.”

What is your favorite student activity/event at South?
“Junk the Jungle during homecoming and football season.”

What organizations are you involved with?
“I am currently the Phi Mu president, an SGA senator, a Southerner, president of the Pre-PA Society, and USS Crewmate.”

What motto inspires you each day?
“Let all your actions be full of grace but seasoned with salt.”

What is a fun fact about you?
“Growing up I used to perform in musical theater. In middle school, I was cast as Ariel in the Little Mermaid, and in my senior year of high school, I was cast as Sharpay in High School Musical with the Sylacauga Community Playhouse.”

What is a hidden talent or skill that you have?
“I like to think that I can sing and love to listen to any genre of music - I've always loved Taylor Swift. However, currently my go-to song is ‘Just a Cloud Away’ by Pharrell Williams!”

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