Ironman Triathlete Diana Dearden Crosses the Finish Line to PA School with UNE’s Online Prerequisite Courses

Diana Dearden headshotDiana Dearden has taken a number of science prerequisite courses at UNE Online, and has recently been accepted into UNE’s on-ground Physician Assistant Program.

She is currently an Industrial Athletic Trainer along with being an ultra marathon runner and Ironman Triathlete, and is working to move to the next phase of her career in medicine.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what encouraged you to seek out online prerequisite courses?

I am currently an industrial athletic trainer. I assess and help diagnose orthopedic conditions in the occupational field. So rather than for members of sports teams like football players or soccer players, I instead assess workers in the industrial setting such as manufacturing and construction. Right now I’m at a client site that produces medical products, so I diagnose and treat a lot of upper extremity injuries and chronic injuries.

Ever since I left undergrad, I knew I wanted to do more than athletic training, so I found myself going to graduate school for a medical science program. I anticipated joining the Navy and going on this huge journey of medicine and the military.

And then I ended up breaking my leg, which pushed things back a little bit. For six-ish years after that, I worked in the athletic training field kind of regretting that I didn’t try to find a way to keep pursuing higher levels of medical science.

Diana Dearden Ironman So when, due to contractual reasons, my job ended for the second time, I took it as a sign. I was unhappy and unfulfilled, and I had the feeling that I meant to do more. So I started looking into medical school.

Problem was that when I started looking, the majority of the prerequisite courses that I needed to take to complete my application were programs that were essentially closed. The courses had already started, so I would have had to wait a whole year to enroll.

But then I found UNE Online.

When I saw that UNE had consistent twice a month enrollment dates I realized that I could start my science prerequisites sooner rather than later.

I took a deep breath – because I wasn’t so sure if programs would accept me or even offer me interviews beyond fulfilling these prerequisites that were online. But I did a lot of research into different medical programs, both MD DO and Physician Assistant. And most of them said that they would accept online credits. So I decided to give it a try.

Which online science prerequisite courses have you taken with UNE Online so far?

Starting in September 2019, I’ve worked on fulfilling all of my prerequisites through UNE Online, except one. The flexibility has really worked for me.

I’ve taken Applied Statistics, Anatomy, Biology I & Biology II, General Chemistry I & General Chemistry II, Genetics, Introduction to Psychology, Medical Physiology, Medical Biochemistry, and Microbiology,

You just got accepted to the UNE Physician Assistant program – can you talk about that?

I did! I’m absolutely thrilled that I will be attending UNE’s Physician Assistant program. I’m nervous, I’m stoked – I have all the emotions! But I’m very much looking forward to starting this May.

PA used to stand for Physician Assistant, but the title has changed to Physician Associate. I could certainly specialize considering my very heavy orthopedic background, but I enjoy a challenge, and I’ve found myself leaning towards family medicine or general medicine just because the caseload is so diverse. You get to treat many different kinds of cases, which really fits my personality.

How has the flexibility of the UNE Online prerequisite courses fit into your lifestyle?

Diana Dearden runnningThe flexibility was perfect – exactly what I needed. I will first and foremost state, if you want to succeed in anything you have to put the time in, you have to put the commitment into it. You can’t just expect yourself to do well in something without effort.

These types of science courses can be challenging, whether they’re online or in person.

The flexibility was outstanding for me. But I still had to put in the time and work. I had unfortunately just lost my job so I essentially had a 40-hour workweek free to take the classes I needed to. So I took three courses at a time while working part-time on weekends. For me, math is not difficult. It’s just intimidating. I get very nervous about it. And so when I had Chemistry, I had to put in extra time and extra work, which is fine. It balanced out with my Biology classes which come easier to me, not to everyone.

The fact that it was all online was great. I’m an avid distance runner. So pre-COVID if I had a race that I wanted to go to, or if I wanted to visit my family or friends, I could literally take my coursework with me and go see my friends and family. Or I could run a marathon or do a full Ironman Triathlon, and after the race, have a meal and then relax on the couch and do some homework. It was phenomenal.

How much time do you think you spent on coursework each week?

I would say 60+ hours a week. Keep in mind that it was three classes, and I also put the extra time in. If it were only one class at a time, I would say plan on 20 hours a week.

To fit everything in, I would literally have my triathlon bike on a trainer (which keeps the bike stationary) and I would do my 20, 40, and sometimes 50-mile cycles. I even did a hundred mile cycle in preparation for a long distance race on the trainer while studying for finals. It was nearly nauseating.

But I would read and study while on the bike early in the morning and get my workout in while studying. I made it work. It was something that I was very determined to make happen.

Have you felt that the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced your career path decision?

That’s an excellent question. I would say yes, in a positive light. I have always had a very innate and strong drive to help people. I’ve had a few very interesting experiences in my life that have pushed me to go further into medicine and want to help people and be a fixer.

And so when COVID-19 hit, I actually was a little upset that I wasn’t already a PA. I felt like I was neglecting my community, and I felt really bad that I wasn’t already available to help them out.

The pandemic influenced me in a very positive light by encouraging me to work hard in my classes so that I could get into a PA school.

What did you like the best about the course curriculum that you’ve taken so far? Does anything stand out to you?

Diana Dearden and her dog

What I liked best was learning new things as an adult! Among all of the classes I took, Microbiology was my favorite. The course curriculum really opened up my eyes to a whole area of science that’s now become a passion for me. Swabbing items for bacteria cultures was especially fascinating.

At one point I had my bathroom at 85 degrees and kept it that hot for three days, to incubate some cultures for an experiment – and I loved it. My significant other at the time didn’t quite understand why we had to keep the bathroom that hot, and I literally said “We’re brewing science!” It was great.

The labs that we were assigned were incredibly educational. They covered a wide variety of topics and were never boring. You’re going to have boring times, that’s just a part of life, but for me, there were many moments of excitement and enjoyment because my brain is geared towards science, learning, and understanding the world. So that’s why I found it fun.

If you could give future online students a piece of advice, what would that be?

Put in the time. It’s worth it. I know a lot of people say that – but it really comes full circle when you realize that you need to put the time in to be successful. These courses can be tough.

Enjoy the ride, but stay dedicated and remember that if this is what you really, really want, it’s going to be worth it.

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