If you’ve received a degree in business management while on an athletic scholarship and earned another full scholarship for an MBA as well as a graduate assistant position, meaning you’d actually be making money while going to graduate school, it would appear that you’re well on the way to a successful business career.
But appearances, as we all know, can be deceiving.
They certainly were for Ashley Newell, who has since become Ashley Newell Prandecki.
“Although I had worked hard to put myself in a position that would allow me to make money while earning my master’s degree, my true passion, medicine, was calling me,” Prandecki recalled. “A business career wasn’t for me. I couldn’t do it.”
Today, Prandecki, a member of the UNLV School of Medicine’s charter class, laughs as she thinks about that time in 2015, a month after her college graduation, when she decided to cast aside what seemed to be an opportunity too good to pass up for the pursuit of a dream of a career in medicine — an aspiration she had given up earlier because she began to have doubts about whether she had the academic chops to make her dream a reality.
“This decision not to go to graduate school in business seemed bizarre to disbelieving peers and bewildered advisors,” Prandecki said. “Their opinions tended to be, ‘It will take 10 years,’ ‘You could get a job without accumulating debt,’ and ‘It’s just too hard.’”
But Prandecki, who so loved doing science experiments during her early school years that her three sisters joked she was making Harry Potter potions, was tired of fighting her passion down. If she could do well on some science courses that would help get her into medical school, she was prepared to take out $200,000 in loans for the four years.
The truth is, her confidence had grown while attending Western New Mexico University (WNMU). She graduated with honors after taking business courses that she didn’t have a real passion for. And her leadership skills were so exemplary she was made captain of the tennis team.
She took a year of science courses and aced them all. And she did well on the MCAT, the medical admissions test. It wouldn’t be long before the girl who graduated from Nevada Virtual Academy was accepted at the UNLV School of Medicine. Instead of having to take $50,000 in loans each year, she received a full-tuition scholarship to medical school, courtesy of the Engelstad Foundation. “That meant so much,” she said.
On Match Day last month, she learned she would be able to do internal medicine residency training in Las Vegas, where her husband, whom she married during her second year of medical school, owns an air conditioning and heating company.
The more you learn about Prandecki’s unorthodox journey to medical school, the more you want to know. It turns out that even her path to a bachelor’s degree came via a road less traveled.
She was born in Great Falls, Montana, where her father was stationed as an enlisted man in the Air Force. Prandecki’s parents began having children only a year after finishing high school. “With me and my three younger sisters in diapers at the same time, it was nearly impossible for them to attain further education,” Prandecki said. The family eventually moved to Las Vegas, where both of her parents now work at Strip resorts.
“While neither of my parents graduated college, they knew the importance of receiving an education and wanted this for each of their daughters,” she said. “My dad mentioned to me that being a doctor helping people would be a good career and gave me things to read about it. What I learned, I loved.
“To overcome the financial hurdles associated with higher education, my parents identified sports as a path to college, specifically tennis. For years, my father coached us and we were fortunate enough to receive financial support for equipment, training, and traveling from the Inspiring Children Foundation.”
With the goal of an athletic scholarship in mind, Prandecki’s parents placed her in the Nevada Virtual Academy online high school, where she graduated as salutatorian, so she could practice tennis four to six hours a day. She became a nationally ranked junior player, and in 2011 signed with WNMU to play tennis on a full scholarship. Eventually, her three younger sisters also were able to secure athletic scholarships and graduate from college.
Prandecki arrived at WNMU with every intention of majoring in biology and then going on to medical school. At the end of the first semester, however, she received a “C” in botany and began to question whether she should pursue a medical degree. “I let myself believe that my online education simply did not prepare me enough. After discussing it with my advisor — he told me going into medicine was incredibly difficult — I changed my major to business management, what seemed to be a more practical option.”
No one is happier that passion won out over practicality than Prandecki. She’s loved medical school, particularly her clinical rotation in internal medicine. “On that rotation, I realized how rewarding it was to guide a patient through every aspect of their care. It has also become increasingly clear that focusing on adult medicine provides the ability to dive deeper into more complicated concepts of pathophysiology and treatment while also allowing variety. I value the ability to learn many of each subspecialty’s intricacies and to learn about multi-system disease processes. I enjoy the puzzle of diagnosing complex patients.”
The right choice
Today, Prandecki has no doubts about her choice of a medical career.
“At the end of the day, many of us wonder what life is all about. I believe that each person in this world has a purpose for living, whether it is as the support system in a friend’s life or as the creator of a charity donating food for millions of children. Because each life is so valuable, I want to be part of the team of heroes whose mission is to give those people a longer, healthier life, so they may fulfill that purpose set out for them.”