PORTSMOUTH — Dr. Rebecca Adams’ path to becoming a physician wasn’t easy – but having her family at her side made it a little easier.
It started early in her life. Even as an 18-year-old girl working in dietary services, she had a passion for patient care. She loved sitting with the patients and would take extra time to prepare their trays and keep them company. So it’s only logical that, when she returned to school later in life, she decided to get a degree in accounting.
Yes, accounting. It was the first step on a winding journey to becoming the provider she is today.
“I thought, gosh, this isn’t really what I want to do but I love the numbers and maybe it will get me in the medical field somewhere,” Dr. Adams recalled. That opportunity first presented itself in 2002 when she was offered a job working at the former Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital.
She started out working with an OB/GYN named Dr. Shah. She worked her way up from a receptionist to the office manager – and asked plenty of questions along the way. The experience helped solidify her decision to directly pursue her love for patient care.
“I was really inquisitive,” she said. “Dr. Shah would teach me along the way. When she retired in 2008, I decided to go back to school.”
She became a full-time student with a part-time job, who was also raising two pre-teen children alongside a husband with a demanding position at AK Steel. The situation forced her to find study time wherever she could.
“I can remember putting the kids to bed, and sitting in their bed with my books all around me trying to get work done,” she said. “My oldest played basketball, and I would sit in the stands during his games doing schoolwork.”
It wasn’t easy, but she knew it had to be done. She also knew she wasn’t willing to sacrifice time with her kids, so carving out time to juggle both was the only option. After graduating with honors, she moved to Pikeville and started medical school.
“I knew it was a big sacrifice,” Dr. Adams said. “It was a financial burden, then uprooting our kids and things like that… There’s a lot that went into it. I could not have done it without the support of my husband, my kids, my parents and my strong faith in God.”
It was hard, and she admits there were moments when she thought she’d made a mistake. On her first day of anatomy lab, she was confronted with a cadaver and left in tears. “I remember leaving, calling my husband and bawling my eyes out saying, ‘I can’t do this.’”
With the help of a strong support structure, she kept going. Then, because nothing about her path could be easy, the final year of her residency coincided with the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had to adapt how we were seeing patients,” she said. “Some of us went to the hospice COVID unit. It was very scary. We were hearing of residents who were being sent in and dying in New York, but part of you wanted to be there and soldier through for the patients.”
It was like nothing she’d ever seen before, but – like every other challenge she overcame – it made her a better physician.
“I look at hurdles differently now,” she said. “I’m constantly looking for ways to work around them, or nay way I can improve and be a better physician for my patients.”
Even the financial hardships she endured while returning to school have made her better, as it’s resulted in a more thoughtful approach to patients of limited means. “There were times when we were digging through our car for change so we could buy bread. It has not been an easy journey.”
As hard as it was, though, she is convinced now that she made the right decision. Not only does she love what she does, she loves where she does it. And she loves that she’s been able to do it all while still putting her family first.
“The kids still talk about how proud they are,” she says. “Through it all, I’ve always put my family first. They always come first, regardless.”
Dr. Rebecca Adams practices at the SOMC Family Practice and Specialty Associates located in the Bellefonte Centre in Russell, Kentucky. To schedule an appointment, call 606-324-0098.