Holly Spraker-Perlman, MD, faculty member in the St. Jude Quality of Life and Palliative Care Division, shares how volunteering as an emergency medical technician sparked her decision to become a physician. This is part of an ongoing series.

Question: How did becoming a paramedic inform your decision to become a doctor?

Answer: I 100% planned to go to veterinary school since I have always loved animals and majored in biology. I decided as a college freshman that I needed to find a local place to volunteer. I ended up training to become a volunteer EMT. I loved this and decided to cross-train as a firefighter and completed my course work to become a paramedic. Previously, I hadn’t thought about taking care of humans, but I liked being available to comfort someone when they were sick or injured. I worked beside many fun, dedicated, smart, and brave rescue personnel. I don’t regret the way I got into medicine.

Q: Did you have a mentor that shaped your early medical career?

A: I had many amazing clinician teachers, but the one who comes initially to mind is Dr. Laurie Lyckholm. I met her during my first clinical rotation as a third-year medical student, but also knew her as she ran the school’s Humanism in Medicine program. She was a dual-trained adult oncologist and palliative care clinician who was authentic, caring and honest with her patients even during the most challenging of times. She became a mentor to me, and although I thought I would go into oncology, I think her giving a name to palliative care showed me what palliative care clinicians look like and how they care for people. She really set the trajectory for the type of physician I wanted to be.

Q: Any lesson or advice you wish you had known as a student or early in your career?

A: I wish I knew that I didn’t have to fit the mold. My career has evolved over time to fit who I authentically am, not who I think people want me to be. I wish I had the insight and courage earlier in life to do what I wanted, not what I thought would be challenging.