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FGCU grad defies the odds to earn her master in physician assistant studies

At just a day old, Tori McQuade was left outside a hospital in China. This weekend, she graduated from the highly coveted physician assistant program at Florida Gulf Coast University. It comes after completing rounds in the same place her mother underwent heart surgery.

McQuade knew she wanted to pursue medicine, but not her medical degree.

“My father passing away influenced me having an interest in medicine,” McQuade said. “And then, a year later, my best friend died of cancer.”

Students in FGCU’s physician assistant master’s program. (Credit: FGCU360)
Students in FGCU’s physician assistant master’s program. (Credit: FGCU360)

Those experiences drove McQuade to FGCU’s masters in physician assistant studies. She could work side-by-side with doctors in about two and a half years. But, months before McQuade started, she was hit with heartbreaking news.

“I had to get heart surgery,” said Susan Blackburn, her mother.

It was a terrifying experience for McQuade and her mother.

“Just seeing it from a daughter’s perspective,” McQuade said, “taking care of your mom after major cardiac surgery, it was rough.”

It was rough, but it made McQuade driven and focused on her goal. She got to work during her clinical rotation alongside the same cardiac surgeons who operated on her mother. And now, McQuade will trade her graduation gown for a white coat.

It was a competitive program she graduated from. Last year, 1,500 students applied, while McQuade’s graduating class had 19 students. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for physician assistants is expected to grow 30% from 2014 to 2024, meaning McQuade will have excellent job security.

For her mother, it was crazy to see her daughter’s career spring forward. McQuade was born in China and adopted at 9-months-old.

“She was found outside the hospital when she was a day old,” Blackburn said.

It is not lost on McQuade how far she has come. Now, as she moves on to her next challenge, she has some heartfelt advice for the next class at FGCU or anyone who is considering the medical field.

“Do your best at everything you’re doing while at school,” McQuade said, “because when you get out of school, someone’s life will be in your hands.”

Holding that responsibility, McQuade and 18 other students in FGCU’s first physician assistant class will soon start helping patients across the country.

“I’m just real proud of her,” Blackburn said. “This is something I can see her being real passionate about.”

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