A woman stands in a long hallway next to a wall of windows. She is smiling and wearing medical scrubs that have "Augusta University Physician Assistant Student" embroidered over the front pocket.
Rachel Gomes

Physician assistant student strives to be ‘a ripple effect going forward’

Rachel Gomes knew from a young age she wanted to pursue a career in medicine.

Gomes, the current recipient of the BeST Scholarship created by Augusta University alum Ron Sanders Jr., said her path was influenced by various factors, including watching her father struggle with lymphoma and other health issues.

A young woman wears a medical professional's coat while holding a bouquet of flowers on a stage. There is a table behind her with a dark red flag draped over it that has "Physician Assistant Program" embroidered on it.

“There were a lot of times when my father was in the hospital or just in pain going through these things, and sometimes I felt helpless,” Gomes said. “I think I was attracted to medicine because I wanted to be able to take action in these types of situations where I felt scared or anxious. I wanted to be more knowledgeable so that I could help people.”

While Gomes’ childhood experiences shaped her interest in medicine, the mentors she met along her educational journey led her to AU’s College of Allied Health Sciences, specifically the Master of Physician Assistant program.

Originally from Fayetteville, Georgia, Gomes completed her bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Georgia in 2021. As an undergrad, Gomes had the opportunity to be mentored by Kristyn Ramsey, a 2016 graduate of AU’s PA program. They worked together in the cardiac ICU at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta while Gomes was still exploring different roles in medicine.

“Hearing about Kristyn’s experience and how she felt really prepared for her career after attending AU’s PA program and seeing the role she had in her job was meaningful to me,” Gomes said.

“I hope to honor this scholarship, so it doesn’t end with me but leaves a ripple effect going forward for future students.”

Rachel Gomes, student in the Master of Physician Assistant program

After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Gomes took a year off from school and worked in her hometown as a medical assistant for Resurgens Orthopaedics. While there, Gomes met Spencer Roland, another physician assistant who graduated from AU.

“Spencer graduated from the program and also had good things to say,” Gomes recalled. “And seeing the way he operated as a physician assistant was inspiring, so I was looking for a way to kind of emulate my mentors.”

But perhaps Gomes’ most significant mentor was 2023 AU graduate Brittney Cunningham, whom Gomes met through Instagram during her undergrad studies. Cunningham did an Instagram takeover for UGA’s pre-health page. She was the only minority student Gomes knew of who had gone through AU’s PA program, and the two developed a lasting friendship that continues today. As a person of color, Gomes was encouraged to learn about Cunningham’s positive experience in the program.

Three women and one man stand together in a group to pose for a photo. One of the women in the middle is wearing a medical professional's coat.
College of Allied Health Sciences Dean
Lester Pretlow, PhD; Alicia Elam, PHARMD;
Rachel Gomes; and Lisa Daitch.

“I reached out to her, and she’s kept in touch with me ever since – guiding me through the program and really being a light to see there’s a place for minority students here,” Gomes explained. “She walked me through what to expect and got me excited to be here. So, I’m really thankful for all the mentorship I’ve had and for them leading me to this program.”

Not only did Gomes receive inspiration from her mentors, but hearing and meeting Sanders at a speaking engagement left an impact on her, as well.

“I was impressed by the way he had an attitude of giving back,” Gomes said. “He had all these persistent uphill efforts, and he still successfully became a PA. And then hearing about the scholarship he created, he didn’t stop there. He wanted to do more and inspire and encourage others in a meaningful way, especially minorities like himself.”

A man sits on a table, while talking to students
Ron Sanders Jr. talks with Rachel Gomes during a lecture he gave in August 2023. [Michael Holahan/Augusta University]

Gomes is on track to graduate in 2025 and said receiving the BeST Scholarship has inspired her to one day also give back.

“I know the scholarship is making a great impact on me and my family financially, but I hope to also as an alum give back, as well,” Gomes said. “I hope to rally fellow alumni to contribute funds, to guarantee that future students have stethoscopes and embroidered white coats at no cost. I hope to honor this scholarship, so it doesn’t end with me but leaves a ripple effect going forward for future students.”

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Written by
Valerie Emerick
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Woman's head shot Written by Valerie Emerick

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