Alumni Spotlight: Gray Shaneberger '10
April 26, 2021
Where did you grow up?
I was born in a small town right in the middle of Vermont and lived there until I was about 14 years old. Then my family moved to southern New Jersey, where I went to high school before going off to college in Maine. But I’d say I grew up in Vermont.
Why did you choose the PA profession?
You know it's funny, but I really feel like it’s the opposite in my case. I feel like the PA profession kind of brought me into their fold. My whole life was hockey, from my earliest memories until the time I decided to pursue the PA profession when I was about 26. I was playing professional hockey, that's all I wanted to do, and then I got injured, a significant injury to my shoulder. I spent most of the season rehabbing it, but after a second injury, I needed surgery. When I’d go to follow up appointments with the ortho, I’d see the PAs, who kind of took an interest in me and asked what I was going to do after hockey.
I was kind of at this crossroads - I never planned on ending my career this quickly from an injury. What am I going to do with my life? My whole life has been hockey. I really didn’t have any idea. The PAs asked “Why don’t you come in this Friday, hang out with us, go into the OR and see what we do?” I got to watch an ACL repair and saw the PA doing a lot of the surgery. Something just clicked – I thought “Wow, this is something I want to do.” I love the team aspect of it. As a PA, you’re very much a team member, you’re not the one in charge, but you’re not the one doing the paperwork. You’re part of the team. I think that resonated with me, that this is a career where the work is collaborative.
I know it sounds cheesy, but it was just like a spark. I really feel like in some ways this PA profession kind of just reached out and grabbed me.
Why did you choose Drexel for your PA Program?
Full disclosure, I was completely naive to the PA profession, the schools that were out there, the notoriety and the competitiveness. I applied to Drexel because I had heard about Drexel's program and thought well, there's no reason to look anywhere else, my family’s in this area and it's a strong program.
Now why did I choose Drexel - I was granted an interview, and it took all of 15-20 seconds of listening to a man named Pepe. He had so much passion, compassion and gentleness talking about the program and what it means to be a PA. I remember thinking I want to be where this guy is, I want to be in this guy's orbit. The feeling I got when he was talking – I remember it to this day. That was it. He was an incredible person, and I had the privilege of going through the program and creating a great relationship with him. He helped me – not so much with the study part of it, but with the bigger picture part of the role as a PA. His understanding of that within himself and within others shaped me and how I view myself as a PA and what I’m out there to do.
That’s what made me choose Drexel. It was Pepe.
Where do you currently practice?
I’ve been in public health for the past ten years. After I left Drexel, I joined the Indian Health Service, and my wife and I went to work on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico. We were there for a little over a year when we found an opportunity in Alaska and thought – why not, let’s just keep moving west! So we took positions with the Alaska Native Medical Center, my wife as an ob-gyn and myself in the emergency room.
Nine years and three kiddos later, we were missing our family and decided to move back to the east coast. We moved to southern Maine, but I was still working in Alaska, flying back and forth. The truth is, I don’t know if I would do that for any other job, but working with the Alaskan native population is just the most rewarding, fulfilling type of work I’ve ever done.
I had been travelling back and forth, but then the world kind of changed, and the restrictions became such that I couldn’t do it anymore because of having to quarantine on either end. I still have that job, but it’s intermittent. Now, I go up for a week, stay with friends, and I’ll work three or four 12 hour shifts, then I’ll fly back. Sometimes I’ll be home for a month, sometimes for three months.
It’s a unique and interesting way to work, but I don’t know if I’d have it any other way. I want to continue to work there for the rest of my life.
Describe a day in your clinical practice.
I usually work an 11- or 12-hour shift straight through. Sometimes I go in at six in the morning, and I work until five at night, or sometimes I go in at two in the afternoon and go home at two in the morning. Sometimes it’s straight through the night.
In the emergency room, you never know what you’ll see – anything from a broken nose, heart attack, pulmonary embolism, appendicitis, bowel obstruction, scrape, fever. It could be something really minor to something that is life threatening. I think that's what I really like about working in the emergency room because you have to stay sharp across all the different specialties – pediatrics, orthopedics, cardiology, pulmonology, urology. You never know what's going to come in. I really like that in my career, I know a little about a lot of different things rather than just always doing the same thing every day.
It’s a very busy hospital, so I’ll see anywhere from 10 to 25 patients during my shift, depending on the day and flow. It’s very hands-on and intense – in a good way! On a given shift, there are usually five or six doctors and seven PAs who all work collaboratively. Some days are incredibly happy, and some are incredibly sad, but at the end of the day, everyone working there feels the same calling for helping underserved populations. Public health is a whole different realm of medicine, and to work in an environment where everyone shares that passion – I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.
What's an item on your bucket list?
My wife has done a few medical missions with Doctors Without Borders and has been to some very unique places that just have no infrastructure, no medical care whatsoever. She has cultivated relationships with places overseas that are underdeveloped, underserved and in desperate need of people to volunteer and do medical work. That is something that I really want to do, hopefully within the next three years. I want to take our whole family along and live there for a year. My wife and I would do the medical piece, and the kids would learn a new culture, be in a school where they don’t know the language, not have shopping malls or electronics. I think it would open their eyes a bit and give them a lot of perspective, and I know for my wife and me, it would be very gratifying to do that type of work.
What advice would you give to a student just starting the program?
This is from my personal playbook when I started the program because I had no idea about the medical world.
Go easy on yourself. Don’t be too scared or proud to ask for help or advice if you need it. There’s nothing wrong with asking. I certainly did a lot of that when I was there. And it’s okay to take a break from studying for a night. It’s okay to fail a test miserably. That’s okay! Because in the end, you’re going to be just fine. Don’t get so wrapped up in what you’re doing that you’re not even breathing. Take a step back. It’ll get done. Do the things you’re supposed to do and don’t overthink it. It’s intense – go easy on yourself.
What advice would you give a student who is about to graduate?
You did it – you got through and conquered a considerable journey. Now the path is yours to choose. Do what you feel in your heart – it doesn’t matter if it’s dermatology, pediatrics, public health – do something that you want to do and make your own path with it. The most important thing is to stay true to yourself and your training, and you will be just fine.
What do you do to relax and take care of yourself?
I try to be thoughtful with the things that I put into my body, what I eat, what I drink. I don’t go so far as to look at labels, but I know it’s probably not good to have bacon every morning or ice cream every night.
I really like yoga. That is something I found later in life that I was never really interested in when I was younger, but that has become good for my mind and my body. It helps me take care of myself better than running or going to the gym. It keeps me grounded.
The big thing for me is that I try to maintain a physical connection to nature. Whether it’s walks or hikes or basically anything outdoors. In fact, my original post-hockey career plan was to be a park ranger. It’s always been something that I feel connected to. I find that I’m the least grounded when I’m the most disconnected from nature.
Do you have a personal philosophy or mission statement?
I try to live my life at 10,000 feet. I try to see the big picture. Sometimes I feel like if I get zoomed in too closely on anything - whether it’s work, family, anything – I don’t have a good sense of things, it feels too cluttered. If you imagine being up 10,000 feet looking down on the earth, that’s where I try to maintain my perspective.
What are you happiest doing when you're not working?
Well, that’s easy – living and experiencing life with my family and all that entails. The good stuff, the bad stuff, the sad stuff, just being present, experiencing and going through this journey with my family makes me the happiest.
We recently started a farm! We have goats, bunnies, chickens, two cats and two dogs. We might get an alpaca or a pony soon! Having these animals on our little farm brings me so much joy, and I know the kids love taking care of them. It teaches us to be humble and think outside of ourselves. To me, it all comes back to cultivating and maintaining a relationship with nature.
What are some causes that you care about?
Having worked in public health my whole career, I really believe and feel strongly about allowing people to have access to excellent medical care across the board. Included in that, access to reproductive healthcare, which I think is lacking in our country and certainly across the world. I think we could do a lot better for people. Some of these hospitals just don’t have a lot, and it doesn’t make sense to me. That’s what makes me want to travel up to Alaska and makes me want to work on the reservation, that innate belief that everyone should have access to excellent medical care. I don’t see a reason why we can’t make that happen.