Emerging from global, personal upheaval with two challenging degrees
By Mark Lambert , M.S. '97
Like many students, Sunayana “Sunny” Pydah, D.H.Sc. ’21, faced challenges while navigating the COVID-19 global pandemic. The path she followed as she pursued her doctorate at Radford University Carilion (RUC), however, was an especially tricky one.
By the time the Galveston, Texas, native landed in Virginia in 2016, Pydah had already earned two master’s degrees and worked at the Baylor College of Medicine. Soon after getting married, she and her husband moved to Blackburg. She worked at Carilion Clinic as her husband worked at Virginia Tech.
“My educational aspiration was always to obtain a terminal degree, a doctoral degree, so that I could conduct research in the health sciences and give back through teaching,” Pydah said.
While employed at Carilion, Pydah pursued a doctorate in health sciences at RUC, then known as Jefferson College of Health Sciences. Working with patients drew her to the physician assistant (PA) medical field. Being a practicing clinician had been a dream of hers since high school.
After considering her choices, Pydah made the tough decision to work on both degrees at the same time. She would pursue her Doctor of Health Sciences (D.H.Sc.) degree at Radford University and her PA degree at another institution in the region.
“In talking with my doctoral advisor at RUC,” she recalled, “we did have some tough conversations of whether I would have to halt my doctoral studies due to the vigor of PA school. But I knew I had it in me to continue.”
She dedicated herself to her studies, completing her didactic, or classroom-based, year in the two-year PA program and her first year as a doctoral student. Then, two major events rocked Pydah’s world.
First, Pydah’s husband received a job offer in California’s Silicon Valley — too good of an opportunity to pass up. The couple packed and moved to the West Coast. Then, COVID-19 struck.
“I adjusted my PA clinical rotation schedule so I could complete my rotations at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California,” Pydah said. The difficult transition paid off; she was hired by the Department of Pediatrics at Santa Clara.
Last summer, Pydah defended her dissertation and graduated from Radford University. While she will be practicing as a PA for the foreseeable future, she still plans to mentor and teach the generations to come, and she acknowledges the impact that RUC had on preparing her.
“RUC will always have a special place in my heart because of the faculty and student collaboration,” she said. “I am the professional I am today because of RUC.”