‘Right Place at the Right Time’: UK Medical Student’s Journey to Health Care Career Started as a Patient

Anna Cox was a couple of years out of college in 2018, a mathematical economics graduate from the University of Kentucky who had just landed a job as a logistics broker, when a moment of tear-inducing pain sent her to the emergency room.

UK HealthCare physicians and staff delivered her with some alarming news – her pain might be caused by cancer.

“Wait, I’m never sick,” Cox thought in disbelief. She was 23 years old without any known health issues and the whole world ahead of her. She didn’t even have a primary care physician. Quite frankly, she didn’t know what to do next.

UK HealthCare’s inpatient team began the work-up and connected Cox with Sarah Schuetz, MD, a primary care provider and assistant professor of medicine at the UK College of Medicine. Sensing there was urgency, Dr. Schuetz scheduled Cox to undergo two biopsies within two weeks.

The quick timing of these tests proved to be extremely vital. Cox was, in fact, diagnosed with cancer, and an aggressive one at that – stage-4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Dr. Schuetz vividly remembers the day she had to give Cox her diagnosis. She first told her to hang tight and to be strong. Then she outlined the chemotherapy process.

“Dr. Schuetz was right there, and guided me through the whole thing,” Cox said. “It was just really cool that I had her to lean on when I was really scared and I didn't know what was coming.”

In that moment, Cox was thrown into the health care setting, going from not having a primary care doctor to putting a dozen doctor’s appointments on her calendar. She endured chemotherapy treatments every three weeks for six months. Her long brown locks gradually fell out with each brush, until she finally decided to go all in and shave her head.

During her cancer journey, Cox was immersed in the health care setting. She received care from UK specialists in emergency medicine, primary care, oncology, hematology, and more. Much of it took place at Markey Cancer Center, UK’s nationally recognized, National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated center.

In six months, Cox completed all of her chemotherapy treatments, and she did so with grace. Dr. Schuetz said her patient was one of the most “positive people I have ever met.”

“Getting a diagnosis in your early 20s of something like stage 4, diffuse large B cell lymphoma is a lot to take in,” Dr. Schuetz said. “Even from the beginning, she was just like, ‘What do I have to do? I'll beat this, no big deal.’”

Intrigued by Dr. Schuetz’s ability to care for patients, Cox wanted to explore if medicine would be a good career for her. Dr. Schuetz gave her the chance to shadow her in clinic, and she even wrote one of her letters when Cox eventually took the plunge and applied for medical school.

Cox went to UK for her mathematical economics degree, but for a medical school, she wanted to be closer to home. Lucky for her, the UK College of Medicine-Bowling Green Campus, a regional campus, had just opened. It was the perfect fit.

She is currently in the midst of her first year taking introductory courses. She said she couldn’t be happier with her decision.

“There was just this compassion that I received from my physicians,” she said. “Now as a student, I see the emphasis the College of Medicine puts on patient-centered care. I really feel like that's from the top trickling down through the entire College of Medicine.”

Not only was the Bowling Green Campus a great location, but it mirrored the College of Medicine’s mission of training physicians in Kentucky, for Kentucky. As a Kentuckian herself, Cox admired that passion to make her state better and healthier. And like her mentor, Dr. Schuetz, she hopes that being a doctor will allow her to build relationships with patients and to be there when they need her – just as Dr. Schuetz was there for her.

Nearly four years from her initial diagnosis, a lot has changed. Medicine wasn’t part of her original plan, but Cox feels like at the College of Medicine-Bowling Green Campus, she is “at the right place at the right time.”