Kara CaruthersKara Caruthers with student Sarah TateKara Caruthers didn’t start pursuing her career as a Physician Assistant until she was thirty years old.

“Not that thirty is old,” she insists. “I was teaching as an anatomy instructor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Through that role I had the opportunity to do some teaching in the PA program, which really caused me to explore the PA profession.”

Caruthers, who now teaches in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences and works clinically in the Emergency Medicine Department at UAB Hospital/UAB Highlands, had never considered any profession besides medicine. “I had always been on the pre-med route and had not explored other health profession careers,” she says. “But with my background in anatomy and interest in surgery, the UAB Physician Assistant program was a perfect fit for me.”

Caruthers graduated from the UAB School of Health Professions in 2009. Now, as a faculty member in the school’s PA program, she is devoted to guiding students through academia and into their professional careers.

“I feel that it is part of my duty, as both a PA and a faculty member, to expose students to this awesome profession,” she explains. Over the past three years, Caruthers has allowed nearly 100 pre-PA or pre-health students to shadow her in the ER. She also mentors UAB PA students as they rotate through the emergency department.

“Oftentimes we limit ourselves more than anyone else,” she says. “Being able to encourage students, or introduce them to career options they weren’t even aware of, definitely makes my crazy schedule worthwhile.”

Caruthers is also committed to expanding diversity—both on the UAB campus and in the wider healthcare community. “Unfortunately, some groups of students are written off due to their gender, race, or ethnicity,” she says. “I think that, collectively, we become comfortable within our careers and we fail to realize that not everyone has been blessed with both opportunity and exposure.”

Caruthers serves as the faculty advisor to the Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students (MAPS) at UAB. She is also an active participant in the Blazer Women Mentoring Excellence Network (BWOMEN), a campus effort to promote academic excellence among the University’s young women.

“I’ve always wanted to be a bridge to students who might not otherwise have an opportunity to explore professions in healthcare,” she says. “As I tell the young ladies in BWOMEN, success is not accidental—it’s planned!”

Even as a graduate, Caruthers is still learning from UAB. “The School of Health Professions continues to offer a great atmosphere for students,” she says. “We have faculty who have procured million dollar grants, who are highly published and successful in their fields. As a junior faculty member, access to these individuals has been useful as I have grown in academia.”

Taking time to explore their professional options, Caruthers advises, will help students avoid investing time and money into a career that might not be the best fit. She also stresses the reality of diversity and the importance of cultural competence among young professionals entering the PA field.

“As our country continues to diversify, it is essential that institutions focus on training healthcare professionals that are culturally competent,” Caruthers says. “That means being aware of the socioeconomics and religious beliefs of our patients. If we are not aware of our patients’ unique cultural perspectives, we will miss the opportunity to engage them in taking ownership of their health.”