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Mizzou Made 2023: Sophia Downar, BHS

Dec. 7, 2023

Commencement is coming up on Friday, Dec. 15, and we’re highlighting some of the incredible students who will soon be alumni of the College of Health Sciences.

Today we meet Sophia Downar of O’Fallon, Missouri, who is completing her BHS in Health Science with a health and wellness emphasis.

Sophia Downar
Sophia Downar

Sophia Downar

Major: Health Science with a health and wellness emphasis
Hometown: O’Fallon, MO

Favorite Quote:

“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.
What does graduating from the Mizzou College of Health Sciences mean to you?

Graduating from the Mizzou College of Health Sciences means that I have completed another hard-earned milestone in my life. It also means that I am a more culturally aware student, person and professional. The College of Health Sciences taught me in-depth how to interact correctly — no matter the barriers present — to hopefully provide the most understanding patient care I can in the future.

I feel the whole degree is based upon not only a health care lens but a lens that puts in perspective all walks of life no matter the gender, culture, race, religion and more. It invites the students to self-reflect and how one should react with respect to all these things at hand while giving the best possible patient care in any realm of health care — no matter if you’re an administrator, manager, nurse, or provider.

What was one of your favorite classes within your degree track?

I’m going with my top three classes because picking one seems impossible!

Global Health Care Systems 3400: I loved learning about the different types of health care systems around the world and the similarities and differences between the U.S. and other countries. Having that knowledge and insight allows you to understand better where patients from other countries are coming from when it may be hard to understand the U.S. health care system and help them navigate it with your knowledge from this class.

Clinical Ethics 4480: This class challenges you! It makes you self-reflect and make the best course of action about ethical dilemmas within health care where you may have to make a decision in the future. It has given me the tools to look closer at my morals and figure out how these fit into the ethics of health care. Normal ethics would not teach us accurately what to do when it comes to a health care setting, and this class gives us that extra push to go into our minds as future providers and administrators to find the best possible outcome ethically while maintaining the best patient care.

Culture & Health Literacy 4400: I’m currently taking this class, and it has taught me just how vastly different culture is even for immigrants who have lived here their whole lives. I interviewed a close friend of mine for a paper, and she is Italian; I didn’t realize how different her culture was compared to the American side and what it means for health care. Having an in-depth class that makes us look closely at cultures different than our own gives us insight we did not know we needed to be the best possible providers for our patients. It also sparks an interest in learning more about other cultures and how to provide the best care to a wide variety of patients.

What activities have you been involved in along the way?

The Mizzou Pre-Physician Assistant Association allowed me to gain insight into my future career with the vast knowledge shared throughout the association trying to help each other make it into grad school for a physician assistant master’s degree. So did volunteering at the local food pantry, Alzheimer’s walk and various blood drives at MU over the years. We gave back to the local community while growing as professionals.

The Army ROTC invested in my leadership qualities to push me to be the best leader I can be. That can translate into my career being a team member and leader as a PA in the health care world. I am a battalion executive officer in charge of more than 80 cadets. I work closely with the battalion commander to make decisions on training and developing our lower cadets while meeting current standards and improving the organization. Peer leadership is a hard task, but the ROTC has allowed me to flourish into a more outspoken leader who gets across what she needs for her subordinates’ welfare. This can translate into my future career as a PA, when I will work closely with doctors to make decisions together for the best patient care.

I also worked with Compassus, an organization that gives back to hospice patients. I would go every week and visit with my patient, whether we were just talking about their life and memories, going on walks or reading a book together. This allowed me to interact with patients and have compassion for every situation I might be in. I also did my Health Science internship with them, and they were super flexible and awesome about me getting my hours!

Finally, I have worked at University Hospital since my sophomore year. I have served as a care team associate-clinical and a nurses’ aide in the staffing department, where I have been to every single floor working and caring for patients daily.

Who helped you during your college journey?

My advisor, Jen Schaffer, helped throughout my experience and invested a lot of time with me, whether it was emailing or meeting back and forth every semester. I would visit with her at least four times a semester because ROTC and any degree is a difficult balance. She helped me pursue my dream to graduate early, which I would not been able to do without her help and support! She knew I could take 18-plus credit hours and it would not affect my GPA or mental health. Without her support, I would not be graduating a semester early for a needed break before starting PA school in the fall. I could tell she genuinely cared about me and my goals and wanted to do what she could to make them a reality. She also gave me a professional recommendation letter despite her busy days, which I feel with proper notice she would do for most students. I sincerely appreciate her and think anyone with her as an advisor is in great hands!

Another person who helped me during college is LTC Tara Bradley, my professor of military science. She saw the potential in me to be a great interpersonal leader who just needed to come out of her shell. I could tell she cares about every cadet’s professional development and wants the best for everyone in the program. She would take time out of her busy day to help me achieve my dreams with multiple recommendation letters, she gave great feedback on formal writing and she even held a mock interview for me as a practice of a PA interview. She is a wonderful person who mentors great leaders, and I am honored to be one of them.

And a special thanks to my family and boyfriend, who endlessly supported me and pushed me to be the best version of myself. Without their love, I would not be able to finish my degree let alone do it early.

What memories stand out from your time at Mizzou?

Many amazing memories of every football win! I was part of Cannon Crew at the games, where I got to perform push-ups with the ROTC crew and feel the pride of being a part of Mizzou and the Army ROTC program.

I also have a lot of memories from when I tore my ACL going into my junior year in fall 2022 and was worried about it affecting my studies. I was taking 19 credits at the time — including Organic Chemistry and Genetics at the same time. I remember having to crutch around campus to get to class. Thankfully, the Mizzou Disability Center and my professors were able to help me out as I had those two exams back-to-back on opposite sides of campus. Thanks to this support, I not only made it through recovery in six months but also kept my GPA high by ending the spring term with a 3.91 cumulative. The Disability Center and so many understanding professors made this possible, and I am very glad Mizzou puts its students first!

What are your plans after graduation?

After graduation, I will be commissioned as an Army 2nd LT in the medical specialist core. Since I gained an educational delay to pursue my dream of becoming a physician assistant, I will not do any training right away. I’m planning to work full time at the hospital to gain additional patient care experience before starting my PA program in August 2024 at Stephens College right here in Columbia. Once I finish the PA program in two more years, I will fulfill my obligation to the Active Duty Army as a PA in whatever capacity they need me to be! It will be a very exciting time, and all my ducks are finally in order after working so hard to get here.

What advice do you have for current and future students?

Be relentlessly resilient in everything you do. You will never regret trying your best, even if the desired outcome still does not come about. My drill sergeant once told me during a workout in basic training that “life is designed to hurt.” Although life can be painful at times, we’re able to rise through this adversity and pain to achieve things we never thought possible. Resiliency is the key to any success in life — keep that in mind with your studies and aspirations.

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Jen Schaffer

Jennifer Schaffer

Academic Advisor