What prompted one UI Health Care dietitian to rethink her childhood dream and apply to the No. 1 ranked physician assistant program in the U.S.
Growing up in the small town of Mount Vernon, Iowa, Megan Cannon had always been interested in math and science. As she progressed through high school, becoming a physician assistant (PA) became a clear career ambition, but an interest in nutrition in college had her following a different path.
“I realized pretty early on that I was super interested in nutrition,” says Cannon, who started her career at UI Hospitals & Clinics in Food and Nutrition Services, delivering patient trays for a summer after her freshman year of college. “It was my first exposure to a large academic medical center, and I knew I wanted to work somewhere that would help me grow.”
Four years ago, after graduation and completing a dietetic internship, she was excited to come back to UI Health Care. Since then, she’s spent most of her career in pediatrics – she worked in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for about a year, and then moved to the Cystic Fibrosis Center.
“I absolutely love being a dietitian. I love the relationships I get to build with patients. I love how personal food is, and that it’s a common denominator between people,” she says. “But nutrition is just a piece of the puzzle.”
Taking a chance
Working in a multidisciplinary team with a physician, a pharmacist, a social worker, nurses, respiratory therapist, physical therapist and more within the Cystic Fibrosis Center, Cannon has experienced firsthand the value of teamwork to provide high quality, comprehensive care for patients.
“For example, a physician might bring nutrition concerns to me before I go see the patient, but I also hear the physician asking the social worker about issues, or the pharmacist bringing up a drug concern,” she says. “It helped me think more about the whole picture, and I wanted to be able to do more for my patients.”
That realization sparked a desire to reexamine her childhood dream of becoming a PA.
“Deciding to apply to PA school was a tough decision,” she says. “I love my job, but I thought to myself, ‘Just apply, and if I don’t get in, I will still be happy being a dietitian.’”
But Cannon did get in, accepted to the No. 1 ranked physician assistant program in the country, starting at the Carver College of Medicine on Aug. 19. And she’s eager to learn alongside peers and future physicians.
“Starting out, all of our classes are with the medical students,” she says. “To me, that says we’re all getting very high-quality training and education.”
Cannon is already off to a strong start, earning a scholarship from the Iowa Hospital Education and Research Foundation (IHERF), which helps address the shortage of health care professionals in the state, as well as encourages Iowans to continue their careers with Iowa hospitals. Suresh Gunasekaran, chief executive officer of UI Hospitals & Clinics and associate vice president for UI Health Care, recently presented her with the IHERF award.
Ultimately, Cannon hopes to complete the PA program and continue to work with individuals in Iowa with chronic diseases or in pediatrics because of the long-term relationships that often form with patients and their families.
“Being part of a patient’s close, trusted circle is the best experience,” says Cannon. “Seeing them change and grow over multiple years, it’s changed me. I’m proud to play a small role in their life and their health.”