Megan Talabis shared her experiences as a student currently in Physician Assistant (PA) school and as a two-time tandem surfing finalist at the World Championship.
Q: Please introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about your journey.
My name is Megan Talabis. I just finished my first year of PA school, and I will be starting my clinical rotations in September. My background is in medical laboratory science — that’s my bachelor’s degree. I did that for about 10 years. I also have some experience as a medical assistant in pediatric orthopedics, oral and maxillofacial surgery and also neurosurgery. That’s what I did to acquire all my patient care hours before I applied to PA school. I’m a two-time applicant, so I applied once in 2018 and then got in in 2020.
Q: What made you interested in the medical field and in becoming a PA?
Both my parents are physical therapists, so as a kid, I was just always kind of immersed in that. I have always been really intrigued by the human body and just science in general, and I would say the tipping point for me wanting to pursue the PA pathway was when I went on a medical mission trip to Cambodia. I was really exposed to areas where there was a huge lack of access to healthcare, and just seeing what different parts of the world experienced and how lucky we are, I just knew that I wanted to further my education so I could help in that way.
Q: You are also an ocean athlete. Could you tell me about that aspect of your life?
I grew up in Las Vegas. After high school, I went to University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. I think a week after being here, someone had introduced me to tandem surfing, and I was hooked. That was over 10 years ago.
Since COVID hit, it has been about two years since I’ve competed on a professional level, but that’s something I did for a really, really long time. I also paddle as well, so I do ocean canoe paddling and I love to surf. I basically love to do anything that has to do with water.
Q: I’m sure you have encountered obstacles in each role of your life. Can you tell me about that and how you overcame any obstacles?
School-wise, I’m a low undergrad GPA applicant, and that was a big hurdle that I felt like I was battling for a long time and honestly it was really, really discouraging. I think I’ve kind of used that to help other people because when you are applying to PA school and you have this low undergraduate GPA, it almost feels like there is nothing you can do to change that. But I found a way to focus on other strengths in my applications, so I just poured my heart and soul into my patient care experience and other things and told myself I am not defined by this GPA. I’m a whole person, and I applied to schools that looked at applicants holistically.
I guess, like everybody else, I’ve experienced a lot of personal struggles and I think I worked on a lot of mindset throughout my journey and focused a lot on reframing the way I look at things. You come to a point where you literally can make a decision that can make or break you, so it really depends on how you look at it — if you are going to be swallowed whole by it and let it consume you, or if you are going to say, “OK, this is a problem. What am I going to do to overcome it?” So I think I’ve grown to be a very solution-oriented person rather than feeding into the emotions, even though that’s really hard to do in the moment. I’ve learned to train myself to understand that emotions are just like waves. They come and go and you are going to feel really down or discouraged, but it’s temporary and is not going to last forever. I think that’s really helped me overcome a lot of things I’ve experienced in my life that are difficult.
Q: In your pursuits of becoming a PA, and also as an ocean athlete, what are some highlights you have had and what accomplishments are you proud of?
Definitely getting into PA school! Because that was a journey. A lot of sacrifices were made. I moved from state to state, multiple jobs — I don’t think my journey is unique in that aspect. I feel everybody who has applied to PA school has experienced something along those lines. I’m really proud that I was able to push through, not get discouraged and not compare my journey to other people’s because that is also really easy. There are a lot of pre-PA forums where everybody is like, “This is where I’m at,” and you can get a little bit of anxiety thinking that is where you are supposed to be at, so I did a lot of work to block out that noise.
In ocean activity, when I first started out tandem surfing, I think I was one of the only girls who didn’t have a background in cheer or dance or anything like that, so I had to work really, really hard and in 2015, I competed in my first World Championship, and again in 2017, as a finalist. I was really proud because I came a long way. It took eight years to get there, but it was a huge accomplishment for me and my tandem surfing partner at the time.
Q: What are some of your future plans and goals?
My immediate goal is to learn as much as I can throughout clinical rotations. I’m still not quite sure what I want to specialize in yet, so really just soak up as much knowledge as I can. I definitely want to stay here in Hawai’i and give back to our community here, and then eventually I’d love to travel and give back to places like Cambodia where I started off.
Q: What advice would you give to other women based on your experiences?
I think with women especially, we get caught in a comparison trap just because we’re exposed so much to social media. Social media can be a good thing, but there’s a lot out there that can have a negative effect, especially on younger women. I would say the biggest turning point for me is to do the work to embrace your journey and just realize — I know it sounds kind of cheesy — your power is that you’re you. No one else is going to have your story, and once I realized that, I was like, “You know what? I need to stop comparing my journey to so-and-so.” I had my own unique story to tell, and once I did that and rewrote my personal statement and told it in my own voice, that really helped, but it took a lot to get there.
Q: What does “she can be both” mean to you?
To me, it means that women are so versatile. We are so multifaceted. It gives me chills to think about what we can do individually and when we break down these barriers. Sometimes I feel like women are almost pitted to compete against each other, but once we realize we can band together, we are really powerful human beings.
You can check out Megan’s Instagram @thehawaiipa.