Serendipitous elevator meeting helps shape future for recent northern Michigan graduate

A chance meeting in an elevator in northern Michigan helped shape a new graduate's career in health care.

Cari Bellicini earned a bachelor's degree in allied health sciences in August while taking classes through Grand Valley's Traverse City Center. Bellicini works at the Michigan Heart and Vascular Specialists, Heart Failure Clinic in Petoskey, a 90-minute drive from Traverse City.

"There were times in the past two years when I would work 40 or 50 hours a week then drive back-and-forth for classes," Bellicini said. 

Seven years ago, Bellicini worked as a registered sleep technician at a clinic in Petoskey. She said the clinic would get so busy, patients were booked three months out. But changes in the industry and the clinic led to a deep decrease in the number of patients and forced lay offs, including Bellicini's position. 

"I was caught off-guard when they told me I was laid off and was leaving the building when, in a serendipitous moment, I met Dr. Miranda in the elevator," she said. "He asked me what was wrong, listened sympathetically and we parted ways. The next morning, I received a call from human resources. Dr. Miranda had reached out to them as he was looking for a new medical assistant."

Dalton Miranda is a cardiologist and director of the heart failure clinic, another office in the same building as the sleep clinic. He has turned into one of Bellicini's biggest champions.

"His medical assistant was leaving and he thought I would do a good job, so I applied," said Bellicini.

Cari Bellicini holds a plastic heart model at the Michigan Heart and Vascular Specialists, Heart Failure Clinic in Petoskey.
Cari Bellicini holds a plastic heart model at the Michigan Heart and Vascular Specialists, Heart Failure Clinic in Petoskey. Bellicini earned a bachelor's degree in allied health sciences and has applied to the physician assistant studies program.
courtesy photo
Cari Bellicini stands behind Dr. Dalton Miranda, seated
Cari Bellicini stands behind Dr. Dalton Miranda, who encouraged her to apply to be a medical assistant.
courtesy photo

Bellicini soon learned she wanted to play a larger role within the office and decided to go back to school to earn a bachelor's degree with an eye on becoming a physician assistant.

"In a PA role, I could make autonomous decisions and I would like to make a difference in the way I work with patients," she said. 

Miranda and the rest of the clinic staff were so supportive of Bellicini's decision to return to school, they altered the clinic's schedule to accommodate her class schedule.

Bellicini has applied to Grand Valley's physician assistant program and will learn in January if she is accepted. 

"I've been in northern Michigan for 20 years, and have cared for patients all that time and I am familiar with this area," she said. "I like northern Michigan and would like to stay here. I know Grand Valley's PA program is competitive, so I will apply to other schools." 

Nicholus Kopacki is the physician assistant studies site director for the Traverse City PA program and assistant program director. Kopacki said Bellicini's experience exactly why Grand Valley established a PA satellite program there five years ago.

"There have been studies that have shown that students who are trained and educated in rural underserved communities are more likely to stay in those rural communities," Kopacki said.

About 70 percent of Grand Valley PA graduates who attended classes in Traverse City continue to practice in northern Michigan or other rural areas, according to Kopacki. 

Learn more about GVSU's physician assistant studies program online at gvsu.edu/pas.