First-generation college grad from Bosnia off to physician assistant school

Adela Redzic, UMSL

Biochemistry and biotechnology graduate Adela Redzic has already accepted a spot in the Physician Assistant Program at SIUC. She’s the first college graduate in her family, who came to the U.S. after escaping the war in Bosnia when Redzic was only 6. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Growing up, Adela Redzic remembers her father’s words repeated again and again.

“Education is the one thing people can’t take away from you,” he would say.

Redzic came to the U.S. when she was 6. Her family was fleeing the war in Bosnia and settled in St. Louis. A little girl when the violence broke out, Redzic doesn’t remember much outside of a few flashes of things that may or may not have happened.

“I guess, because it was traumatizing, my brain didn’t want to keep those memories,” Redzic said.

But the experience left a lasting impression on her family and their values, especially concerning education.

“[My father] saw it as a way to move up in life, kind of your only way, especially coming from a more impoverished background,” Redzic said. “But that made me who I am today.”

So when Redzic walks across the stage this month to graduate from the University of Missouri–St. Louis, she will not only be earning a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and biotechnology, but she’ll also now have the education her parents always prized.

Redzic will be the first in her family to graduate with a college degree. The oldest of two daughters, Redzic often had to be involved with things like bills and her parents’ medical appointments, helping translate things to and from Bosnian. She said it made her more mature at a young age. Beyond maturity, Redzic also strove for academic excellence.

“It was just kind of expected that I would be a good student,” she said. “My parents instilled the self-motivation in me that you really need to succeed. I knew I had to work. I knew I needed scholarships. My parents were going to help me as much as they could, but I didn’t expect that from them.”

Redzic came to UMSL with the Chancellor’s Scholarship, a Pierre Laclede Honors College scholarship and some money from Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that meant she had minimal out-of-pocket expenses. She also already had a medical career in mind.

During her time in city schools, which she is proud to say she attended from elementary through high school, Redzic took part in a local summer medical camp.

“We did a lot of things you wouldn’t expect middle school students to do,” she said. “We dissected a pig’s heart. We looked at cadavers. We dissected cats – things you would think of an anatomy lab doing.”

From that moment, Redzic knew her path – medicine. So when an opportunity came in her senior year at Gateway STEM High School to take an emergency medical technician course, she jumped at it. Passing her certification test on the first try, Redzic was able to land an EMT job shortly before graduating from high school.

For the next two years, Redzic pursued her biochemistry and biotechnology degree full time Monday through Friday at UMSL and worked 20 hours as an EMT on the weekend for Abbott EMS.

“I’ve had some interesting experiences,” Redzic said. “I really learned to talk to everybody and all kinds of personalities, which is something I don’t regret about taking that job during college. One person may like a stretcher made this way, another takes vitals a certain way or sometimes doesn’t want to be the one to talk to the patient. It was stressful, but it was a good opportunity to learn those skills.”

But Redzic’s end goal wasn’t ever to be an EMT. At the end of her sophomore year, she left Abbott and took a position at Missouri Baptist Medical Center.

“I just kind of wanted to get to the hospital setting because I knew EMS wasn’t something I wanted to do long term,” she said.

At Missouri Baptist, Redzic worked as a patient access representative, handling medical records, collecting co-pays and going over Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rights with patients.

“It was nonclinical, but I still got the opportunity to interact with patients, talk to nurses and doctors,” she said.

In the meantime, she continued plugging away at her UMSL degree, which she says really helped her hone in on cellular-level science.

“I didn’t have to take ecology or animal/plant-based stuff as a biochem major,” Redzic said. “Instead, I took classes like molecular biology, labs like biotech and biochem, where you transform bacteria with a certain plasma and you express a certain gene.”

After graduating from UMSL, Redzic will take her skills and experience to the Physician Assistant Program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She’s already been accepted, and it’s the next step in achieving her dream career.

Redzic had decided on becoming a PA instead of pursuing medical school and a doctor of medicine degree long ago. She had explored everything from physical therapy to becoming a dietician. It wasn’t until she shadowed a PA that Redzic knew her path.

“The lifestyle a doctor has just isn’t for me,” she said. “I just never saw myself specializing in one type of medicine and doing that my whole life. PAs are mainly primary care health professionals. But that’s the thing about being a PA – you can work part time here, do part time there, switch within a year if you want. It’s just more flexible.”

She hopes to return to the St. Louis region and work as a traveling PA after the two-year program.

The UMSL Experience

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