As Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home,” and three young women took that sentiment to heart when it came time to begin their careers as medical professionals.
Physician’s assistants Valarie Monico and Rachel Taylor, and DO Jennifer Rose may have taken different paths to get them to this point in life, but they were all certain they wanted to come back to Pocahontas County.
All three knew they wanted to enter the medical field, but each has a unique story of defining “what do I want to be when I grow up?”
“I think I always knew,” Monico said. “When I was little – it was between animals versus people. When we picked our clusters when we were in middle school, I kind of veered toward the science/health science area.”
Rose faced the same conflict – animals versus people – and even began in animal sciences before she made the change.
“I grew up on our family’s farms, was involved with 4-H and FFA, and so I knew I wanted to do something undergraduate-wise at least in agriculture, so I went to WVU as an animal science major,” she said. “I was kind of contemplating veterinarian medicine, actually. My shadowing experience was with a veterinarian, and I liked it, but I was in love.”
Taylor always knew she wanted to work with people, but wasn’t sure at first what part of medicine she wanted to enter.
“I thought I wanted to be a dentist and when I was in high school – they still made us do the mentorship – so I went with Dr. Harper and really enjoyed that, but after a day or two of looking in mouths, I realized that wasn’t for me,” she said. “I thought, ‘well I don’t really know what I want to do now.’”
While Rose was at WVU pursuing a bachelor’s degree in animal science, Monico and Taylor both discovered the Physician’s Assistant program at Alderson Broaddus College [now University].
“I thought I’d go to be a nurse, and so I went to Alderson Broaddus and checked their college, and they had, at that time, one of the few PA programs in the state,” Taylor said. “I didn’t know what a PA was, and I had good enough ACT scores that they said, ‘well you should just check out the PA program.’ They explained that it would be one more year of schooling and how it was different from nursing, and I thought, ‘I’ll give it a try.’”
After five years at AB, Taylor graduated with a master’s degree as a PA.
Monico initially attended college in Pennsylvania, but after a year, realized it was too far away from home. She transferred to AB and entered the PA program, as well.
“When I first started working here, the big confusion was between a PA and a doctor,” she said. “A lot of people asked, ‘when will you be a doctor?’ And I was like, ‘probably never because if I did I would have to go back to medical school just like anybody else with an undergraduate degree.’ It’s been interesting to watch how it’s progressed in Pocahontas County in the years that I’ve worked here. Now everybody knows pretty much that a PA and nurse practitioner can practice medicine, but we’re not doctors.”
Rose continued her path in animal science for a time, but after talking it over, she decided to change her course and set her eyes on medicine.
“I did some shadowing and did some research in probably my junior year of college and said ‘this is what I’m going to do,’’ she said. “I’m probably a little atypical in that. A lot of people who are in medicine have known that’s what they wanted to do their whole life and mine was kind of trial and error.”
Rose attended the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg, where she received her DO [Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine].
“DOs do additional training in what’s called manipulative medicine – so manual medicine – using your hands a little more to treat and evaluate conditions,” she explained. “We still get the basic sciences. I actually did my third year medical school rotations with WVU. There was kind of a cooperative agreement and then my residency program was a dual MD/DO program.”
After graduating, the three women entered the medical field, and again, found different paths which all led them home.
Rose began her career with a residency at Charleston Area Medical Center, or CAMC.
“It was busy, but I think it prepared me really well to be back in rural West Virginia because CAMC is a tertiary care center – a referral center – so the sickest of the sick go there, but they also get the basic bread and butter medicine, and so I feel like I learned the care from the basics to some of the most extreme in people,” she said. “It wasn’t overwhelming. I did my third year rotations in medical school there, so that’s kind of like an introduction. When I started my residency there, I kind of knew what I was getting into. I went to the smaller hospitals and just felt like I could probably get a wider exposure, skill set foundation to bring back home.”
Unlike Rose, Monico and Taylor returned to Pocahontas County after college and were able to practice at small clinics.
Monico worked with Dr. Sarita Bennett and later Community Care of West Virginia when Bennett consolidated her practice with the larger clinic.
“I always knew I would come back – even all through the PA program, all through my rotations – I geared my rotations toward rural health medicine so that I would be prepared, hopefully,” Monico said. “I did a lot of my rotations, actually, here in Pocahontas with Dr. Bennett. I worked first with Dr. Bennett – Family Health Care – and then she consolidated her practice with Community Care, so we just shifted over to Community Care.”
Taylor also joined the Community Care family with the help of Bennett, although at first, she wasn’t sure she wanted to return to the county.
“Actually, I didn’t want to come home right away, at first,” Taylor said. “I thought I would really like to travel and live other places and do different things, but I’m really glad it worked out the way that it did now because it’s really nice to be here with family and friends and neighbors, and get to go travel and come back here. I’m really glad it’s worked out the way it did.
“Dr. Bennett was definitely key in helping me to get back,” she continued. “I started working for Tri-County Health Clinic which is now Community Care. I worked with Dr. Bennett when she was with them. It was really just a wonderful experience having her as my mentor. Also being from the area, it was really great to learn and have her teach me some of her bedside manner and things like that.”
After several years at CAMC, Rose also returned to the county and found herself working at Community Care.
“It’s challenging, but it’s also very rewarding to be able to help and care for your friends, your neighbors, your friend’s neighbors and your neighbor’s friends,” Rose said. “Just the proximity to being home and being close to my family – it’s great.”
Rose divides her time between the Marlinton and Hillsboro clinics.
Years after joining Community Care, Monico left for a position at the Pocahontas Memorial Hospital Rural Health Clinic because she wanted to move to part-time hours.
“I worked for Community Care for several years and wanted to work fewer hours – part-time hours – and they just didn’t have that to offer then, so I called the hospital, and they did have a part-time position available in the clinic.”
Working at the clinic, Monico said it’s great to be located at the hospital where there are more resources for her and her patients.
“Everything about the clinic being here is really nice – to be just down the hall from the ER – if our patients need to be admitted, we can wheel them down the hallway in a wheelchair and they can be admitted to the hospital,” she said. “Also, I can order lab work, stuff that I can get back a whole lot quicker that might help somebody rather than sending them home or sending them up here for labs from another outside clinic. That’s just a special obstacle they have to overcome working away from the hospital, which I don’t have to think about anymore. It’s nice.”
Taylor also made a change – from seeing patients at Community Care, to being full-time at the School Based Clinics.
“I had worked in the schools fifty-fifty,” she said. “I split my time between the clinic and the schools for the past two or three years, and I really enjoyed school-based health. Whenever I got pregnant, they offered me a full-time school-based position and I said, ‘absolutely.’ I’m in the schools four days a week – Monday through Thursday, I’m at different schools.
“We see students and teachers and retirees,” she continued. “We can do everything at the schools that we do at the clinic.”
While these professionals have hectic schedules, they still find time to work on their family farms and/or have time for growing families.
Monico homeschools her two children – Mazie, eight and James, six – who are both very active in extracurricular activities.
“On my off days, I’m doing their school work with them and Mazie skis and James snowboards, so they go up and ski several times during the week,” she said. “That’s one of the main reasons we homeschool, so that we can have those opportunities to take them and do those things. They will probably be on the ski team next year. Mazie is in dance at Green Bank and, hopefully, James will be in T-ball in the spring.”
Monico says that it isn’t as bad as it sounds and with the help of her husband, Pete, and a babysitter, who takes over school duty when she is at the clinic, everything falls into place.
“We enjoy it a lot,” she said.
For Taylor, who co-owns Frostmore Farm with her husband, Adam, farming has become a new love that consumes her downtime, almost as much as her new son, Brice.
“We officially started as a business in 2015, but we had been making [maple syrup] before,” she said. “This year, we’re going to try to do more stuff up here, too. We will have the blueberries, and if there are apples this year, we’re going to have cider making, and we’re going to plant sweet corn up here, too. If [Erwin Berry], at the farm, does mums and pumpkins again, there will be mums and pumpkins for sale, too. So we’ll have all sorts of stuff going on.”
Farming is Rose’s favorite past-time, as well, although her family raises cattle instead of crops.
“My dad and my brothers have about two hundred beef cows and so it’s what we call a cow-calf operation,” she said. “Momma cows have babies every year, and we raise the calves until weening weight and feed them to a market weight at which time they’re sold to feed lots to be finished. With that many mouths to feed, there’s always something to do – fence to fix, feeding to be done – so I try to help when I can, but I’m not as involved as I’d like to be.”
No matter how the journey began, these three young women found themselves back at the start, home in Pocahontas County – and there’s no place they would rather be.
“I think working where you have ties is special,” Monico said. “It’s hard, because these are your people. These are the people that you grew up knowing, that you love, that you want to make sure they’re taken care of, so it’s a big responsibility for somebody to take care of them, but we care. The people I grew up with, I obviously want them to get the best healthcare that they can possibly get.”
“I’m proud to be here,” Rose said. “It’s not always easy, but it’s been rewarding. When you have patients that you truly feel like you’ve been able to help and bring something to them or change their lives in some ways – that’s rewarding and makes up for some of the other challenges that come with it. I have good people to work with. I have people who are truly here because they care about the people and always want to do more and want to do better, and so that’s rewarding, too.”
“It wasn’t how I thought it would be,” Taylor said. “If you would have asked me when I was a senior in high school what my plans would have been, it would have been a completely different story than what unfolded, but I’m happy that things have turned out the way they have. I believe it’s happened – everything that’s happened – has happened for a reason. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I think so many people want to come back but they may not be able to, so I feel very privileged to be able to be back here and be able to serve my friends and family and neighbors and community.
“I’m the person I am because of growing up in such a great community.”