When Viviana Di Stefano ‘20PA walks into a room, she is filled with confidence. With little to no digging, it is easy to find that Di Stefano is a strong and adaptable woman who doesn’t shy away from a challenge.
These are all important qualities to have, not only as a student in the University’s Physician Assistant (PA) Studies program
but also as a Student Ambassador
, of which she is the first PA student to join.
“Through my recent life experiences, I’ve had the epiphany that I need to act now because you don’t always have tomorrow,” she said.
She comes from both Colombian and Puerto Rican backgrounds and speaks Spanish and Italian, in addition to English. Always at the top of her class, she worked as a chemist after graduating from West Chester University (WCU) chemistry major with a minor in Biology in 2013.
Di Stefano has already been faced with several tests of faith and character, and she has passed each with flying colors.
In the back of her mind, she always wanted to be in medicine and wanted to attend medical school but plans changed when she found out she was pregnant. Still, Di Stefano continued to have the urge to be a part of the medical profession.
She was accepted into the Salus Physician Assistant Studies program. She was set to start, and then life threw her another test. Her son, Valentino, was diagnosed with Leukemia on February 2, 2017, at the age of two.
“I sent Admissions an email and they were very supportive and suggested that I defer, to which I was heartbroken, but it was for the best,” Di Stefano said. Though it was hard to put her dreams of furthering her education on hold for the time being, of course, her son came first.
“Considering what I went through that year after his initial diagnosis - if I had been in school - I wouldn’t have made it because it was intensive therapy and I rarely slept,” she said. “The diagnosis broke me - but on the other hand - it was kind of beautiful. You can go through life-changing moments where life does a 180 and somehow you still find yourself laughing and appreciating the little things in life.”
After reaching a less-intense point in her son’s treatment plan, she found the familiar urge had returned to wanting to give back and to become a PA.
She started her first semester at Salus prepared for anything. “It was overwhelming but exactly what I expected,” she said. Another big test of Di Stefano’s strength came during the first week of exams.
She was conflicted because as a PA student, she knew she had to work hard to pass and put in long hours studying, however, her son still needed her attention and she felt she wasn’t able to do it.
But, again she passed life’s test.
As if being a PA student and a mother wasn’t enough of a challenge, Di Stefano decided to apply for the Salus ambassador program - of which there had yet to be a PA student accepted.
The ambassador program is comprised of a select group of students from different programs who provide support both on and off campus. Entering the ambassadors during their first year, students are chosen after an application process that includes essay questions and several interviews. It is expected that many of the ambassador hopefuls have served in similar roles at their undergraduate institutions. All of the students selected have community service experience and a strong desire to represent Salus.
Di Stefano was highly interested in the ambassador program to satisfy her constant urge to be a part of something “bigger” and take action. The fact that there hadn’t yet been a PA ambassador made her slightly nervous, but she wanted to give it a shot.
Now as the first PA ambassador, it’s another schedule to juggle in her busy life, but she still finds the time to make it work. The ambassadors meet often and work together on many events around campus. While she is to be expected to participate in as many as possible - the team understands when Di Stefano has scheduling conflicts. She did participate in this past November’s Looking Out for Kids charity fundraiser and enjoyed being a part of making the event successful.
In regards to her personal life, Di Stefano feels like her husband and son have their own life at times and she misses being a part of it, but then she reminds herself that the lack of time won’t last forever and in the end, she’ll have fulfilled her dream of being in the medical profession. It’s so she can help others in the same situation as they are in currently. “I make a big effort to talk to my son, now age 4, and explain why I am in school,” she said.
She also makes it a point to spend at least an hour with him every night putting him to bed, reading him a story, or praying together, to offset the amount of hours she is spending at school and working on schoolwork.
When she does have family time, they enjoy spending it together with extended family members surrounded by food - lots of food. When her son is on the mend, she hopes he gets back into soccer - a game he loves. As for Di Stefano, once she is established in her career - a PA in pediatric hematology and oncology - she’d love to take up fencing. But for now, she’s happy for a glass of wine on the sofa watching Netflix - whenever she has downtime in her schedule.