Sisters Rachel and Sarah Reppert have a lot in common. From an early interest in the health care field to majoring in exercise physiology for their undergraduate degrees, the siblings consider West Virginia University Health Sciences and the School of Medicine to be influential parts of their story. Now, Rachel, a first-year student in the Doctor of Dental Surgery program, and Sarah, a second-year student in the Physician Assistant Studies program, are sharing their experiences as their journeys continue.
Following the path to WVU
Sarah and Rachel knew they were interested in science early in their lives. Over time, their interest developed into a desire to pursue a career in health care.
“Ever since I was a young girl, I knew I wanted to work in a health professions field,” Rachel said. “Having influential science teachers in high school was a major factor as to why I was geared more toward STEM.”
Growing up in West Virginia, WVU also was always part of the sisters’ lives before becoming official Mountaineers when they enrolled at the University.
“I remember going to WVU football games as a young child and waking up on those Saturday mornings feeling like it was the best day of the year,” Rachel said.
“I toured WVU as a senior in high school and immediately started counting down the days until Welcome Week,” Sarah added.
While Sarah was immediately drawn to the Exercise Physiology program because it provided her a great foundation for master’s and doctorate programs, Rachel took a different path before following in her sister’s footsteps.
“As a freshman I was an engineering student,” Rachel explained. “I knew I wanted to stay in a STEM field and work in a health care setting, but I was unsure of the path I needed to take. Sarah was the person who introduced me to exercise physiology.”
Looking toward the future
As Sarah and Rachel began looking toward life beyond their undergraduate educations, they both found their experiences in the Exercise Physiology program led them to their next destinations.
A research opportunity during Sarah’s undergraduate studies reaffirmed her decision to study medicine and continue with her education.
“Dr. Mark Olfert provided me an opportunity to work on a project focused on the acute effects of electronic cigarette aerosol on cerebral perfusion in mice,” Sarah said. “Working in the research lab made me realize how much I enjoy learning about physiology and medicine.
“Then, I watched patients place their trust in the hands of medical professionals in charge of their care while I was working as a clinical associate at Ruby Memorial Hospital. That’s when my interest in becoming a physician assistant began.”
For Rachel, a unique experience through the WVU Institute for Community and Rural Health, along with the necessary skills provided through her training in the Exercise Physiology program, provided her the insight she needed to determine her next move.
“The opportunities for student-led research, the graduate level pace of the pathophysiology course and the human cadaver dissection lab are just a few of the learning experiences offered to students in the program,” Rachel said.
Experiences outside of the classroom deepened Rachel’s interest in pursuing dentistry school after graduation.
“I knew I was meant to have a future in dentistry on my first day shadowing Dr. Suter at All Smiles Dental in Bridgeport,” Rachel said. “Seeing people leave the dentist office with confidence and higher self-esteem made the field of dentistry even more enticing to me. I was also lucky enough to participate in the Rural Undergraduate Shadowing in Healthcare Program where I was exposed to dentistry in a rural setting and had the opportunity to witness the impact of the field on patients.
“Without a doubt, the Exercise Physiology program is designed to facilitate a smooth transition from undergraduate to professional school. As an undergraduate student adviser during my senior year, I was able to see the program from a staff perspective which solidified my previous notion of how much the faculty and professors care about each student.”
Providing direction for future Mountaineers
As they continue their journeys, Rachel and Sarah are finding ways to become involved on campus and connect with their peers. They are excited for what the future holds and encourage prospective students to take advantage of all WVU has to offer.
Rachel is a member of the Delta Sigma Delta Fraternity and the American Student Dental Association while Sarah serves as vice president of the Physician Assistant Student Society.
“Our organization raises awareness about the physician assistant profession, organizes community service events, provides mentorship for future physician assistant students and discusses ideas to improve the health care of patients in West Virginia and beyond,” Sarah said.
Rachel also encourages students to get involved and prioritize self-care throughout the application process.
“Shadow as much as possible, and be yourself during interviews,” Rachel said. “Taking time out of the day to be with friends, exercise or practice a hobby is important for your mental health, especially when in a stressful situation such as application season.”
As Rachel and Sarah reflect on their education thus far and look forward to careers in health care, they are happy they chose WVU to be part of their journeys.
“Some of my favorite memories have been at WVU and I am forever grateful for all the opportunities the University has provided for me,” Sarah said.
Photo: Rachel (left) and Sarah Reppert