Courtney Opalenik, PA-C G‘15
Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies
I’m doing what I always wanted to do: building a career in something meaningful.
I worked for years to be able to get into PA (Physician Assistant) school. Now, since earning my degree, my life has changed entirely.
When my aunt told me that Bay Path had started offering a Physician Assistant Studies program, I applied. It was important to me to go to college in this community because I have a strong connection here already, having lived in Western Massachusetts for most of my life.
I was eager to begin my primary care rotation, and when the time came, I knew I wanted to learn and work in a dynamic atmosphere. I’d heard several people speak very highly of Dr. Ruth Potee, a Greenfield physician specializing in addiction medicine. After working with her and her colleagues at Valley Medical Group in Greenfield for eight weeks, I understood their praise. She will always be someone I look up to as a professional in medicine and as a woman leading in the field. Bringing quality primary care to the masses is without a doubt one of the hardest jobs in medicine. Dr. Potee does this with great care and kindness, and inspires me to work in the same way. Working at Valley Medical Group also allowed me to see a wide range of patients because it is a “one stop shop” for primary care, urgent care, and specialist care, equipped with its own lab and radiology department.
It’s imperative that students in healthcare spend time learning about addiction because it affects everyone at some point and can take many forms. If you haven’t struggled with addiction yourself, it’s likely that someone you know has. Addicts have a stigma around them and I think they are often misunderstood, which, unfortunately, can lead to poor medical care.
One day, Dr. Potee and I saw a patient together who hadn't left his home for a long time. He was really struggling. He told us the only reason he mustered up the strength to get dressed and leave his home was to see Dr. Potee. That really resonated with me. Being a trustworthy, compassionate clinician gives people hope, and hope can save lives. That’s something worth building a career on, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience that during my rotation.
I've never been one to take a back seat, but Bay Path’s PA program forced me out of my comfort zone. I learned how to take initiative and that strengthened my leadership skills. I worked with general surgeons Dr. Ampadi and Dr. McClelland at Baystate Franklin Medical Center while I was enrolled at Bay Path, and thanks to them, I realized where my career would take me—to the operating room, an area I am most passionate about. Together with Dr. Potee, they shaped who I am as a clinician today.