Vanessa Mendoza ’19 (MMS ’22) has a World War II-era Snoopy figurine on her desk, given to her by a man she met as a hospice volunteer.
“Each time I visited him, he wanted to learn about me and others. He cared about the caregivers and the med techs in the community,” says Mendoza, who volunteered at the hospice company while studying for her biological sciences degree at Chapman University.
He was always brainstorming ways to make a difference in others’ lives, even as he reached the end of his.
“One of his last wishes was to go to CHOC dressed in a Snoopy outfit to make the children happy,” Mendoza says.
She thought her visits were helping him, then realized he was the one helping her.
“He was wise and provided mentorship, guidance and bits of knowledge that he gained over his years,” she says. “Most importantly, he taught me to be kind, selfless, to always put others first and encouraged me to spend my life doing something I find passion and purpose in.”
The figurine given to her by the man, who died in his mid-90s, is “a reminder of the person I strive to be. He made a positive impact on me and I want to make a positive impact on others,” Mendoza says.
From volunteer to PA
Mendoza finds passion and purpose as a physician assistant for a mobile primary care company serving older adults. She goes where her patients are — home, assisted living and board-and-care facilities.
“I get to see my patients weekly. Over time I not only learn more about their medical conditions and health but I have the privilege of developing a trusting relationship with them. I am able to learn their likes, dislikes, about their family life and who they are as a person,” says Mendoza, who received a full-tuition scholarship to Chapman’s physician assistant program from the Simon Family Foundation.
Mendoza’s studies at Chapman, work and volunteer experiences gave her a foundation.
She wanted to work in the medical field since she was 5. In high school, she created a club that raised awareness of, and funds to treat, various medical conditions.
She thought she wanted to work with kids, as most of her volunteer experience was with children. Before entering the PA program, she began volunteering with a hospice company supporting older adults.
“I’d visit weekly to read to them, sing with them, listen to music with them, listen to their life stories, hold their hand and provide companionship” she says. “Through that experience, I learned that I love and appreciate the geriatric population. It’s an honor to be part of someone’s life at the end stage.”
Before applying to Chapman’s PA program, she worked as a medical scribe for her current company and as an EMT. Once she became a Simon Scholar PA student, she learned time management, perseverance and the value of being a continuous learner.
“The rigorous criteria of the PA program has helped me in practice because I now have a very solid foundation in medicine,” she says.
Quality time with patients
As a Simon Scholar PA student, she received mentoring, tutoring support, access to guest speakers, financial advice and listening ears from program staff. The scholarship program gives students earning their master’s in medical science through the Chapman PA program the chance to graduate in two years with little or no debt.
“Having the financial support during PA school allowed me to devote all of my time, energy and attention to PA school. It gave me the opportunity to dedicate myself fully to achieving my goal and dream,” Mendoza says.
Now she’s able to give back to the community without the pressure of high student debt.
“I strive to give high-quality health care to patients,” she says.
On a typical day, the Orange County native sees patients in person and via telemedicine, makes diagnoses, interprets tests and develops patient care plans. She manages a variety of acute and chronic medical conditions. She also educates patients, staff and the community on topics like healthy habits through staff trainings, “doc talks” and more.
“I’m grateful that Chapman University and the Simon Family Foundation have invested time and resources in me,” she says. “They have provided guidance, knowledgeable professors, resources and support that has allowed me the opportunity to make a positive impact as a physician assistant.”