Now in her second year at the UNLV School of Medicine, Paris Collier vividly remembers a day when she was just 4 years old, a day that started her on the path to becoming a physician.
“I pressed my forehead against the cool glass, attempting to get a better look. My brother lay in his incubator, no bigger than my father’s hand, with tubes and wires covering his tiny body,” she said. “While the scene might create unease for most, for the first time since his birth, I felt a sense of relief. For weeks, my brother had been in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) fighting for his life as my family and I worried at home. Even at such a young age, I understood the situation was dire. This was the first moment I ever got to lay eyes on my newborn brother.”
Though children were not allowed in the NICU, a nurse had agreed to let the little girl look at her brother for five minutes through a window.
“My brother was born at just 27 weeks and spent two months confined to the NICU. I was so proud to be a big sister, but I felt helpless and scared. Will my brother live? Why are my parents crying? Why can’t he breathe on his own? I wanted to know why and I wanted to help. Reflecting now, it was this moment that set me on a journey to an interest in medicine.”
Today, her brother William, who was born with a number of allergies and asthma, is in college. While Collier describes him as a wonderful young man, she said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, he must be especially careful because of his underlying health conditions. “He and my mom are staying home quite a bit.”
It wasn’t just that brief glimpse of her brother in the NICU that steered her toward a career in medicine. “Going to appointment after appointment with him made me want to learn about the human body. I watched as a doctor could calm my mother’s nerves or make my brother smile. I could feel the care and concern the physicians had, not only for the patient, but for our entire family. Throughout my schooling, I frequently pursued science opportunities to increase my knowledge. This ultimately led me to want to pursue a career in medicine.”
A magna cum laude graduate of UNR, Collier majored in both biology and Spanish. She credits her love for the foreign language to both her grandfather and to teachers she had in grades K-12. “My grandfather speaks Spanish fluently and was even a Spanish teacher before becoming a lawyer. I was able to start picking up the language from a young age and continued to study it in school. I saw an opportunity to serve a greater community by learning another language. I hope that my experience with the language and culture will help me to be a better physician for my patients.”
During her sophomore year of college, Collier studied abroad in Costa Rica, shadowing at a local hospital in the town of San Ramon. While assisting with physical therapy exercises, watching live births, and observing several different surgical specialties, she was able to directly interact with patients and local health care workers. “My experience was amazing, to say the least.”
That experience in Costa Rica, which offers universal health care to its citizens, reinforced her belief that health care should be a right. “I was privileged to have access to health care throughout my life, but for some people in our country that is not the case. I hope that as a future physician I can use my voice, my vote, and my platform to help move our health care system towards a better future.”
Serving the Underrepresented
Collier — her mother is a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company and her father works in the tech industry — says she chose to attend the UNLV School of Medicine because she “connected with the mission statement of the school. Nevada has been my home for many years and the UNLV School of Medicine is fiercely devoted to serving the state and especially underrepresented groups.”
Though she misses much of the in-person study at the medical school because of COVID-19, Collier said the emphasis on virtual technology could translate to better care for patients. “I think one positive thing that may come out of this pandemic is an emphasis on telemedicine. This can make providers more accessible to their patients. Transportation to appointments can be a huge barrier for patients. In the future, more providers will now be able to assess patients without having them come in person.”
The emphasis on volunteer work during medical school is something Collier has long embraced. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, she was very active at Squires Elementary School, helping students with homework and art and outdoor activities. “Volunteering at Squires was always the best part of my week.” Her volunteerism was particularly on display during her undergraduate years, as she helped raise $60,000 for Renown Hospital in Reno — the hospital she credits with saving her brother’s life — by organizing dance marathon fundraisers.
Collier, who was elected treasurer of her medical school class, is frequently asked how she was named “Paris.”
“My parents said they wanted to give me a somewhat unique name. They dreamed of getting to travel the world someday. They got the idea to look at an atlas for names. They fell in love with the name Paris and the rest was history.”