Yale PA Online Student Driven to be Proactive in Preventing Health Problems

by John Curtis

Jacob Riegelsberger

In 2018, during a helicopter medical transfer where he was the critical care flight paramedic, Jacob Riegelsberger came to a realization. He had been a paramedic for more than a decade, working in southern Texas. He also spent four years providing care to the crew of a research vessel that traveled the world and mapped the ocean floor in search of oil and gas. Now at a helicopter transport company near San Antonio, his patient was an elderly man whose chronic asthma had led to pneumonia. He had lived far from a health care provider and could not afford his meds or office visits.

“Everything about this flight and the patient’s condition was entirely preventable,” Riegelsberger says. “There was no reason they needed to spend $200,000 on that flight and have a critical care team do all that.”

This triggered the beginning of a new career path. “I didn’t want to be responding to people’s unfortunate events anymore. I wanted to be ahead of the game,” he says.

He is now participating in clinical clerkships on the home stretch of his studies in Yale’s Physician Assistant Online Program. He lives in San Antonio with his partner and expects to graduate in May.

Riegelsberger became interested in medicine in high school when he was uncertain about his life goals. He took a course in health science technology and fell in love with it. A teacher with whom he is still in touch encouraged him and when he enrolled in community college, he trained and started working as an EMT. “In undergrad, I worked 96 hours a week as a paramedic with a 16-hour credit course load. I managed that on very little sleep and a lot of study in between classes,” he says.

After college Riegelsberger got the job on the vessel that took him to Surinam, Brazil, Cyprus, the North Sea, and Australia. It also exposed him to primary care. “People would come in with preexisting conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and I would manage those with the assistance of an offshore physician. That’s when I got that bug,” he says.

His interests include LGBTQ primary care and vascular surgery, but although he has not settled on a specialty he is leaning towards critical care. “That’s what I know best.”