The prognosis looks good for a healthy career choice even before Leah Gutshall graduates from Big Spring High School.
The Lower Mifflin Township youth is already working a job in the medical field as she prepares herself for ultimate goal of becoming a physician assistant.
“I really like it. ... It has been a great experience,” said Gutshall, 18, a senior employed as a part-time certified nursing assistant with Synergy Home Care.
Her first couple months helping elderly clients reinforced the direction she wants to take as an intermediary between a doctor and nurse.
“I don’t want to go to school for a very long time,” said Gutshall, explaining why physician is not a good choice for her. She also wanted to do more than what nurses are certified to do.
As the oldest daughter of parents who are school teachers, she wanted to follow in their footsteps of helping people but take a different path from being an educator.
Her passion for the medical field developed gradually from middle school and her freshman year at Big Spring, but it really took off when Gutshall worked an internship at the Graham Medical Clinic in Newville.
As a job shadow, she spent her time observing the daily work of physician assistants as they interacted with patients, developed a diagnosis and provided care.
“The whole time I was engaged,” Gutshall recalled. “They were very good about answering my questions. My favorite part was the surgery. Most of it was minor outpatient procedures including the removal of moles for biopsy.”
A defining moment for Gutshall was when she was asked to hand instruments to a physician assistant who was closing a wound with stitches. She wanted to step in and get involved. “Nothing grosses me out,” Gutshall said.
Last July, Gutshall qualified as a certified nursing assistant after taking coursework at HACC. She landed her current job with Synergy a couple months ago.
The work requires her to provide home care to senior citizens, including preparing meals and running errands. “I really like working with them,” Gutshall said of the clients. “They have a lot of wisdom.”
While she enjoys helping the elderly, Gutshall is focused more on the prospect of going into pediatrics or surgery as a physician assistant. Growing up in a large family, she has three younger siblings and likes being around children.
Gutshall already had a chance to develop a bedside manner. Two years ago, she visited her younger cousin Trey Fry at Penn State Hershey Medical Center where he was receiving chemotherapy treatments for leukemia. Fry is in remission.
Turning to school, Gutshall is active as a leader in student council and in community service work as a member of both the National Honor Society and National Science Honor Society.
She is active in the Mini-Thon, the annual student-run fundraiser for the Four Diamonds fund. “I like to motivate others through the different things we do in school,” Gutshall said.
A field hockey player since middle school, Gutshall was on the Big Spring team that made it to the first round of district play-offs last fall.
“I loved every minute of my senior season,” said Gutshall, who cited as her favorite game the Big Spring victory over their arch-rival Boiling Springs High School. It was not just a triumph for the team starters. Every player had a shot at showing up the Bubblers.
“It was a mix of people that just played well together,” Gutshall said. “It was just a great experience.”
Gutshall plans to attend King’s College in Wilkes-Barre in the fall, where she will major in physician assistant studies. With graduation little more than three months away, Gutshall is eager to prove herself.
“I have a lot of great memories. ... I know I will miss it,” she said of her time at Big Spring. “But I’m ready to get out there. I’m very excited.”