Call it serendipity.
Andre Kerr was vacationing with his wife. It was an idyllic spot next to a river in their native Jamaica. Suddenly, a teenage boy started to drown. Kerr and others jumped in and pulled him out.
Fortunately for the boy, Kerr and an American tourist performed CPR and revived him. At breakneck speed, they drove the 13 year old to the hospital. They saved his life. The incident would also change Kerr's life. He just didn't know it yet.
Since childhood, Kerr had wanted to be a medical practitioner. He loved science and medicine. His mom and friends called him Dr. Dre. But "honestly, my family was large, and medical school was expensive," he says. "In Jamaica, I thought we couldn't afford medical school."
Fast forward to the present. Kerr is a physician assistant at the Miami VA Healthcare System in Miami and Broward County, practicing internal and preventive medicine. He is a graduate of the inaugural 2015 class of the Master's in Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) program at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. He is the first in his family to attend college and study medicine.
Kerr was so grateful to FIU that after graduating in 2017 and passing his licensing exam in early 2018, he wrote a thank you note to then HWCOM dean, Dr. John Rock. The subject line read: "Me, A Certified PA! Unbelievable!"
"For me, a 42-year-old, Jamaican born, black male, with a wife and two girls to take care of and provide for, and be given this opportunity, is more than a dream come true. Words cannot express adequately what this program has given me and has done for me and my family."
Back to that day many years ago—after rushing the boy to the hospital, Kerr discovered that the American who helped revive the teen was a PA. "I said, what's that? In Jamaica, we don't have physician assistants." The man explained that PAs work under the supervision of a physician. But they can examine and diagnose patients, order and interpret laboratory tests and x-rays, make diagnoses, prescribe medication and practice in all medical specialties. Kerr thought it was a perfect fit for his personality.
"As a PA, you're at the center of the patient's health care team. You speak to the patient, the nurse, the dietician, the surgeon, the social worker. The doctor may not have time to do all of that. PAs play a critical and vital role in the health care team," he says.
In 2005, Kerr and his wife—then a registered nurse, now a neonatal nurse practitioner—moved to the United States. In 2015, he was working as a field service biomedical engineer when HWCOM announced its new PA program. Opportunity knocked.
"During my PA school interview, they asked me why FIU? I said because the "I" is for international, and you can't get more international than me, so I'm supposed to be here!"
Kerr describes working during the COVID-19 pandemic as exciting, but heartbreaking. "Especially being black and seeing the comorbidities in the underserved communities. Sometimes it's overwhelming but mostly humbling."
He is too modest to see himself as a role model. However, Kerr hopes to encourage young blacks to pursue careers in health care. "It's a daunting reality. Patients have a more natural trust with someone who looks like and speaks like them," he says.
Kerr feels it helps get minority patients to open up about their health issues and better comply with prescribed medications and treatments.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physician assistants are among the fastest-growing and best-paid occupations. The 2019 median salary for PAs was $112,260.
In case you're interested, Kerr will tell you that life as a PA will be "challenging, rewarding, sometimes frustrating, but never boring."