A heart for service

A heart for service

A physician’s assistant student’s life experience drives her passion for her career

By Katherine Brown

Extraordinary Person Ideanna Acosta_MCM_1565Ideanna Acosta has always had a heart for service. Raised by a single mother who sometimes made no more than minimum wage, she knows what it’s like to go without — or at least go with less.

A passion for serving the underserved led her to a future career as a physician’s assistant. She hopes to practice primary care, specifically preventive medicine.

“You can do preventive medicine in all aspects of the medical field, but I feel like it’s more helpful in primary care because we’re the first providers to see the patients before they have to go to other specialists,” she said. “That’s why I have an interest in primary care, because I feel like I can address the issues before they get bigger.”

Her interest in health care began as a teenager, when her own health was declining. Considered morbidly obese by doctors her whole life, Acosta was prediabetic and hypertensive and weighed more than 325 pounds by the time she was 15. She sought the help of the school health provider, who helped her make lifestyle choices and lose more than 130 pounds. This journey is the reason she is pursuing preventive medicine in primary care today.

Acosta’s career goals and passion for service were combined by receiving the National Health Service Corps scholarship earlier this school year. The highly competitive scholarship selected 196 students from all medical fields out of roughly 5,000 applicants.

The scholarship, which funds loan forgiveness, tuition, books and a living stipend, requires a minimum two-year commitment of service in primary care to an underserved area after the student has graduated. Acosta was selected in September after going through an application process involving three essays, two letters of recommendation and completing countless hours of community service.

Her commitment to service goes back to her time in high school, where she did community service to meet requirements for other scholarships. When she began her undergraduate studies in microbiology at UF, she continued this trend by volunteering at UF Health with patients and as an HIV counselor for the Alachua County Health Department in east Gainesville. HIV/AIDS medicine was her passion as an undergraduate because of family members who have the virus, and her passion to help those with it live productive lives.

She taught sex education to high schoolers in the area as well during this time and was an active member of Alpha Epsilon Delta, a pre-health honors society, where she was a division director and mentor. After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, she took a year and a half to work as a patient care assistant on the cardiac floor at UF Health.

Acosta is currently in her last year of her physician’s assistant studies. During this time, she has worked with the Equal Access Clinic, a free, student-run health care clinic established by the UF College of Medicine, and is a member of the pre-P.A. club. When she has time, she attends meetings for Let’s Talk About It, a north central Florida group that empowers HIV-positive women, to provide health care advice and counseling. She’s also actively involved in her church, serving meals to the homeless and giving what medical advice she can.

“I just get so happy when I’m able to help others that are struggling with finances, specifically medical issues, and they don’t have money to be seen by a doctor or a provider, Acosta said. “I don’t care about the money. That’s not what I’m about. That’s not why I joined the profession. I do want to pay my bills, but at the same time I want to help others who are in need, specifically those who can’t afford insurance.”