Q&A: PA Studies student to be inducted into US Air Force Academy Athletics Hall of Fame
Sara (Neubauer) Lyons (MPAS Class of 2022) grew up on a farm in Bottineau, North Dakota, where many of her family still live and farm. She studied biology/pre-med at the United States Air Force Academy while completing military requirements and competing on the Division I track team.
While at the Academy, Lyons received numerous awards, recognitions and honors, including three-time NCAA First-Team All-American (2009 – shot put, discus throw; 2010 – discus throw), Mountain West Conference champion (2010 – indoor shot put, weight throw, outdoor shot put, discus throw), USAFA Record Holder (indoor shot put: 53’11”; outdoor shot put: 54’5½”; weight throw: 61’11”; hammer throw: 193’7”), USATF Junior National Champion (2007 – shot put) and USAF World Class Athlete Program selection for London 2012 Summer Olympics (2010). Lyons will be inducted in the United States Air Force Academy Athletics Hall of Fame on Sept. 24.
Q: What does being inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame mean to you?
A: It's still a bit surreal. My athletic career does not feel far enough behind me to be eligible for a Hall of Fame induction. At the time, I just tried my best to keep getting better — becoming a stronger, more fit, more technically sound athlete. The bigger picture is that Hall of Fame is a testament to working hard and achieving dreams, as cliché as that sounds. However, it was a team effort that included my coaches at the different levels, my teammates and our training staff. Another inductee this year is the longtime USAFA track/field head coach, Ralph Lindeman, who passed away this year. He played a tremendous role in my success so it's very special getting to be in the same class as he is.
Q: What was your career/educational path after graduating from the Academy in 2010?
A: I was commissioned into the Air Force. Based on my athletic achievements and performances in undergrad, I was accepted into the World Class Athlete Program (WCAP) to serve as an officer-athlete for my first two years on active duty. I was stationed in Los Angeles, California, and trained with two-time Olympian Conor McCullough, Sr., and his son, 2016 Olympian, Conor McCullough, Jr. I focused on the hammer throw during WCAP. I also helped coach high school students, worked monthly at the LA Air Force Base gym, and spoke as an ambassador to elementary school students. After the 2012 Olympic season, I moved from Los Angeles to Biloxi, Mississippi, for cyber/communications training. From there, I moved to Sumter, South Carolina, to work as a Communications officer. During my time at Shaw Air Force Base, I helped manage the internet, computers, phones and radios for the entire base. I also deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan for 7 months in 2014. Although I was Air Force, I served with the Army unit that was in charge of tearing down the small bases while we prepared to leave the country. I chose to leave the Air Force in 2015 to pursue a career in medicine and to be stationed with my husband, Quentin, in Boston.
Q: When did you decide to go to PA school and why did you choose UT Health San Antonio?
A: I originally applied to medical school in 2014 but was not accepted. Then my husband and I welcomed twin boys in 2016 when medical school would have begun. I firmly believe that timing sometimes dictates the next path in our journey, so after a year of staying home with our premature babies, I began taking more classes to reapply to medical school or apply to PA school. At that time, my husband was planning to stay on active duty in the Air Force so we decided to pursue the PA career to keep our family together as much as possible. The shorter school timeline and flexibility of the where we can work were the biggest factors in making that choice. I applied and was accepted to a PA program my first year but would have been 8 hours away from my family, so I made the difficult decision to turn down the acceptance. Then we were stationed in San Antonio, and I was accepted into the UT Health San Antonio MPAS program. It's been the best of both worlds, having our family together and being in a high-quality program to become a medical provider.
Q: Why do you want to be a PA?
A: I've always wanted to work in orthopedic surgery and originally wanted to be a surgeon. However, I've had some amazing opportunities through athletics and the Air Force that also exposed me to PAs and surgeons. I learned that PAs can do a lot of the same things a physician can do in clinic and be the first assist in surgery without the longer process of a residency and fellowship or the opportunity to change specialties if I choose.
Q: Do you have a particular specialty in mind after graduation?
A: I love orthopedic surgery and the operating room. I've really enjoyed total joint repairs and tumor resections throughout the body.
Q: What have you learned (either through classroom or clinical experiences) in PA school that surprised you?
A: I've learned that there are many different paths to the same ailment in patients. Hence the treatments must be tailored to fit each person, each insurance allowance and comorbidities. Treating patients includes a lot more than just knowing the textbook ways to diagnose and treat.