Bianca Belcher ’03
Bianca Belcher ’03, left, who’s in the physician’s assistant program at Northeastern, with Emily Soto, a student at Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers in Boston. Soto is a student leader who helped organize Belcher’s health clinic program at the school. (Photo by Julia Bertozzi)

Bianca Belcher ’03 says she “sort of stumbled” into the health-care field—literally and figuratively.

An international studies major and All-NESCAC basketball player, she was in negotiations to play ball professionally in Spain when a last-minute injury derailed her plans. The Lewiston, Maine, native was at loose ends, trying to come up with a Plan B, when she helped out at the primary-care doctor’s office where her mother is a nurse. “I fell in love with health care,” she said.

Head over heels.

Belcher began by getting into the field of orthotics and prosthetics, earning her professional certificate at the University of Connecticut and working as “the interface between technicians and the patients.”

Soon she found herself working in operating rooms, observing surgeons during amputations. “And they’re asking us, ‘Should we cut here or should we cut here? Are you going to be able to give them a more functional brace if we cut here?’”

Belcher worked mostly with children who had spinal deformities or who had experienced trauma. She said she was inspired by her young patients, who accepted their conditions and treatment more readily than adults. “It’s heartbreaking to see and know that they’re going to go through so much turmoil in their life,” Belcher said. “But kids are so resilient. You put these large braces on them and they somehow just bounce back and go out and play five minutes later.”

After a year working in rehabilitation, Belcher wanted to learn more about treatment and care. She went back to school (a recurring theme) for her post-baccalaureate premedical work at the University of Vermont, applied to medical school, and was accepted. But she then concluded that being a physician’s assistant would be a better fit. With a year to wait for that program to begin, she earned a master’s in public health at Dartmouth, finishing in June 2010. Two months later she entered the P.A. program at Northeastern.

One year in, Belcher has begun clinical rotations and is drawn particularly to neurosurgery after having worked with patients with cerebral palsy and spina bifida. Belcher also was selected as a U.S. Schweitzer Fellow, one of about 250 graduate students in the country’s top health and human service schools who receive fellowships to design a community health project to address an unmet need.

Belcher learned that Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers, near Northeastern’s campus in Boston, specializes in the health-care fields. But, she said, “they don’t have a school nurse. They barely have a physical education program. They only have two team sports.”

She is designing a program offering two clinics per year, staffed by Northeastern P.A. students, and is targeting asthma (prevalent in the inner city and among African Americans) and sexually transmitted diseases. An asthma clinic will help diagnose asthma while teaching the P.A. students to recognize, and high school students to treat, symptoms. The STD clinic will offer one-on-one sessions and create communication tools to help health-care providers educate students about trends in that area. A survey showed that 50 percent of the high school students are sexually active, and 24 percent of those have had sex with three or more people, Belcher said.

“These kids are 17 and under,” she said. “It was very eye opening.”

Belcher, who lives just north of Boston in Revere, will be overseeing the high school clinics while doing nine five-week rotations at different locations from Boston to Connecticut. “My schedule is pretty crazy,” she said. “I like to keep it nice and packed.”

Basketball doesn’t fit into the schedule much, she said, but the former standout point guard has found other athletic activities.  “I actually picked up amateur [mixed martial arts] fighting,” Belcher said, “I’ve had a couple of fights. I don’t do it competitively anymore because I want to get into surgery. I don’t want to injure my hands.”