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Barbara Perry ’80

Barbara Perry
 

Alumni Spotlight: Barbara Perry

Social Sciences, Class of ‘80
Physician Assistant, Garlic Farmer, Jazz Trumpeter
 

Somehow all the twists and turns of Barbara Perry’s career keep bringing her back to where she started.

Barbara Perry (’80) plays the trumpet. Which probably wouldn’t bear mentioning, except that it helped launch her college career – in the wrong direction.

A native of Sharon Springs, Barbara originally decided that music was where her future lay, and upon graduating from high school, she made her way to Ithaca College to pursue it. “I only lasted a couple of weeks,” she says. “It just wasn’t a fit, it didn’t feel right at all. So I came back home and started at SUNY Cobleskill.”

In the course of earning her associate degree in Social Sciences, Barbara played basketball on the women’s varsity team and – naturally enough – became a member of the jazz ensemble. But when graduation approached, she faced the fact that she really didn’t know what to do with her life.

“I sold ice cream,” she says, “I worked in a bank. I had some other jobs off and on, but nothing really grabbed me, nothing said, ‘Okay, this is it. You’ve found your career.’ So I kept looking, without any preconceptions.”

Before long, Barbara came across an opportunity to work at Cobleskill Regional Hospital as an aide in the respiratory therapy department. And there at last she felt the spark. “I found health care quite fascinating,” Barbara recalls, “and I decided that this was the area where I wanted to spend my career.”

If that career was going to have any longevity, however, Barbara would need more training. And so she pursued and earned her second associate degree, this time in respiratory therapy, through a long-distance correspondence course from the California College for Health Science.

“I found health care quite fascinating,” Barbara recalls, “and I decided that this was the area where I wanted to spend my career.”
“So now I was at Cobleskill Hospital, armed with my new degree, and I slowly came to realize that while respiratory therapy is interesting, it’s a pretty narrow field,” she says. Then it struck her that the people on the hospital staff called “physician assistants” were doing impressive things in all sorts of specialty areas.

So back to school she went once more, enrolling in a Physician Assistant Certification program offered jointly by Hudson Valley Community College and Albany Medical College. “I graduated two years later, and now,” Barbara notes with a smile, “I had three associate degrees.”

All along the way, she often drew on encouragement she’d received from a psychology professor at SUNY Cobleskill. Now retired, “Tom Bowes was always a big cheerleader for his students, and I was no exception,” she recalls. “He had a way of seeing inside you, seeing what you were capable of. His spirit helped push me along.”

Eventually Barbara earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Charter Oaks State College in Connecticut. She found, however, that in order to graduate she would need to take a writing course, something she couldn’t do at Charter Oaks. So she proceeded to take such a course – back at SUNY Cobleskill. “It just seemed like the logical place,” she says.

Today, some twenty years later, Barbara is still at Cobleskill Regional Hospital (now a part of Bassett Health Services), still happily working as a physician assistant in the department of surgery.

Yet as demanding as her work schedule is, she still finds time to tend a small farm with her husband. The farm’s main crop is garlic, which she loves not only for its many uses in cooking but also for its myriad health and medicinal benefits.

And in what little spare time that leaves? “I’m at SUNY Cobleskill,” she explains. “I still play trumpet in the jazz ensemble, and I also put in a few hours each month as a physician assistant in the athletic departments trainers’ office, working with basketball players and other athletes.”

Looking back, Barbara says, “The school has always been a kind of a constant for me, a thread that keeps running through my life. And I really don’t see that ever changing.”