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The Road to Becoming a Doctor for Nic Rawson Started in Strattanville

Thursday, June 6, 2019 @ 12:06 AM

Posted by Ron Wilshire

NIC RawsonSTRATTANVILLE, Pa. (EYT) – The road to becoming a medical doctor was paved for Strattanville native Nic Rawson when he joined the Strattanville Volunteer Fire Department.

Nic is a 2009 Clarion-Limestone High School graduate; a Clarion University graduate with a major in psychology and a minor in microbiology, and most recently he graduated from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine with a DO degree (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine).

The road isn’t over yet for Rawson, and he estimates that he has at least five more years of residency to reach his goal of becoming a board-certified surgeon.

He also hopes the road leads back home where he would practice in the Clarion area. 

His wife Amy is also a graduate of Clarion University with a bachelor’s and master’s degree and plans to go to Veterinarian School in Illinois.  They are also expecting their first child on August 7, so it’s been a busy year.

“I’ll likely be coming back here when I complete my residency,” said Nic. “For me, I’ve always thought a problem in this area is that young people get their education, and they move away the first chance they get.

“We complain about how there’s nothing to do in Clarion and about this and that. The bottom line is I think it’s a great place to live. I think it’s a great place to raise kids. On top of that, if you are interested in making it better, it’s our responsibility to come back here and make it better. I would not have been able to do half of the things in my life without lots of people in our community supporting me, loving me, treating me like their own child. I feel like I have the duty and a responsibility, and Amy feels that exact same way.”

“I don’t want to be just the doctor here, and I don’t think Amy wants to be just a vet here.”

NicAmy and Nick Rawson

Preparing for medical school

“Clarion University really helped me for medical school, along with a different background. Besides that, I was a psychology major. Most medical students were biology majors, but I minored in molecular biology. I took a bunch of biologically-oriented psych classes from Dr. Randy Potter and Dr. Tom Vilberg, and Dr. Jean Slattery. Dr. Janita Jolley was my advisor, and she taught developmental psych. Between the four of them, I didn’t study a single day for psychiatry in med school because I didn’t have to. I had all of these classes under my belt that prepared me.

“The thing about Clarion is I can name the professors I had, and I continue to be Facebook friends with all of them. They have been interested in my journey and my success. They’ve been invested in my success and would do anything for me just like they would do anything for their students. You don’t get that at Penn State. You don’t get that at Pitt. You only get that at places like Clarion.

“Not only because of that, but the material is really there. I graduated the top 10 percent of my class in medical school, 18th out of 199. I was president of my class for the last two years and the class president always has to give a graduation speech. Started with 220 and graduated with 199. My class is the largest that has ever graduated there.”

Nic Rawson, EMT, Paramedic

Another edge for medical school also came from Nic’s involvement with fire departments and EMS. He belongs to the Strattanville Fire Department, Brookville Fire Department, and Farley, West Virginia Fire & EMS.

Rawson said that when he went to college, he didn’t really know that he was interested in medicine, but his interest was with out-of-classroom work as an EMT.

“I got my EMT down at the Hawthorn Fire Department through Clarion Hospital.  I started to volunteer in Strattanville and saw some nasty stuff there. I thought I really needed to get more exposure and took a part-time job on the ambulance on the weekends, and you could work 24-hour shifts.

“While in college going full-time, I did 24 hours in Jefferson County EMS in Brookville and Punxsutawney on Saturdays and then in my junior year of college, they offered to pay for my Paramedic Certification. That is significantly more training; EMT is about 160 hours, and paramedic is anywhere between 2,000 to 4,000 hours of training. Between my sophomore and junior years of college, they sent me to Indiana for Paramedic, and I passed that. In October 2012, I got another part-time job at Clarion Hospital as a paramedic.

“What I would do is go to work on Friday at 7:00 a.m. when I was done with classes and work until 7:00 p.m. on Saturday at Clarion and then sleep in my bed one night. Sunday morning, I would get up and go to Brookville from 7:00 a.m. Sunday to 7:00 a.m. on Monday and then go to my 8:00 a.m. class at Clarion University Monday morning. I worked 48 hours a week in my last two years at Clarion University. These are smaller towns, and I wanted a little bit more exposure, and I was offered a better job with better compensation and higher call volume in DuBois after graduation. I worked full-time EMS at DuBois for a year and a half until I went to med school.”


After an elaborate matching of doctors to hospitals that offer residencies, Nic will start his residency on June 20 at Carle Foundation Hospital, a 413-bed regional care hospital and Level 1 trauma center in Urbana, Illinois.

“Depending on your specialty, the residency is anywhere between three and seven years. General surgery is smack dab in the middle with five years.

“At the end of your third year in medical school, you have an idea of where you want to start. A match works kind of like starting over from scratch if you pretend that medical school is your bachelor’s degree, that residency is your master’s, so you need to find a school, or in this case, the hospital that’s going to give you your ‘master’s degree.’ You apply just like you did to college medical school, but then what happens differently after graduation is you are interviewed because it is also a job. I interviewed as far away as Phoenix or Denver and as close by as Columbus and Elmira, NY. You travel all around to interview.

“You come out as a board-certified general surgeon and that covers gallbladders, appendices, some colon stuff, thyroids, and a couple of other things like minor procedures.

“But, if you want to do trauma at a big center — smaller hospitals typically don’t require you to do a fellowship, it’s actually critical care — if you want to work at hospitals like Presbyterian in Pittsburgh or AGH and those types of facilities, you have to do a two-year fellowship in trauma and critical care. If you want to do cardiothoracic surgery, pediatric surgery, colorectal surgery, it’s all two years, and those are on top of the five years. You have to take another board exam to be board certified in that.”

What was the most surprising thing about medical school?

“You block out a lot of the hard parts. People always talk about how hard medical school is with the material, but it wasn’t hard, although there’s just a lot of it. That’s the problem they always say that you’re drinking knowledge out of the firehouse whenever you go to medical school. You can drink water all day, it’s just the pressure. I was able to have friends down there. I had a fulfilling marriage.

“I was surprised by how much I shared with my classmates’ blue-collar background, first in the family to go to medical school. I was surprised by how relatively normal everything felt because everything is abnormal. Everything about med school is abnormal.  My first year you came home smelling like the cadaver lab every single day. That’s something that I never thought was going to happen — that we would have to separate clothes based on the stench and not just color. The things that you learn by looking at a real person that died from a real disease, being in the classroom setting in school learning about these things, you think to yourself this is a really rare thing, but nothing is normal about that. Life keeps going.

“There are people who cope, and people who don’t. If you can cope with that kind of pressure, it’s pretty normal.

“The City of Louisburg in West Virginia is 3,000 people, and the closest major city is still Pittsburgh. We’re out in the middle of nowhere. People talk about the isolation of Clarion—you don’t know until you live in southern West Virginia what isolation means.”

Amy, who is also pursuing her road to become a veterinarian, thinks the people are very much like the people in Clarion County. 

“We were feeling very well down there.”

“Rural people are all the same,” said Nic. “We all work hard, and you know each other, and you’re all working this tight-knit community to achieve the same common goal, the problems are the same.

“The audition rotation for residency started this year where you go to different hospitals, and it’s like a four-week job interview. This past year I spent four weeks in Champaign, Illinois; Mancini, Michigan; Philadelphia; and Columbus, Ohio.

“We’ve also lived in the Ohio River Valley; Lewisburg, West Virginia; Clarion, and Brookville and no matter where you go, the problems are the same. People are people, and they have the same stuff.”

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