Newswise — When Gidon Coussin’s children asked him what he did for a living, the business developer had a difficult time explaining it. The best he could come up with was: “I try to do deals.”
For about two decades, the Israeli businessman and his friends had launched successful start-ups, including Boxee – a home theater application that streams media to television with a social networking feature – which was sold to Samsung in 2013. But as satisfying as creating new companies was, he felt something was missing. He longed to show his children, ages 5, 10 and 14, that there is more to life than the corner office.
When the Boxee sale closed, Coussin decided to make a clean break, also leaving his position as CEO at Feelday, a family activity locator app he launched. “I knew this was my chance to change my life and help people in a hands-on way,” he says.
He looked back to his experience as captain in the Israeli Defense Forces, where he watched in admiration whenever the army medics sprung into action. “I was a paratrooper and had medics under my command. They had to be real pros to care for the wounded while under fire,” says Coussin, who now studying to be a physician assistant at Rutgers School of Health Professions. “I think the seed was planted back then.”
Coussin’s road to Rutgers took many turns. Shortly after resigning, he noticed an advertisment for EMT volunteers in his hometown of Short Hills, and he signed up for training. “After only two shifts, I knew this was exactly what I was born to do,” he says. “Finally, in my 40s I figured out what I wanted to do when I grew up.”
After completing his EMT training, Coussin decided to continue his studies and become a paramedic – 90 minutes away in the city of Camden. “I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and help an underserved population,” he explains.
He enrolled in a two-year course at Camden County College. After a year of school, he worked two 12-hour shifts each week with paramedics in Camden to fulfill his fieldwork requirement while continuing to volunteer for double shifts each week as an EMT for the Millburn-Short Hills volunteer first aid squad.
The decision proved to be solid. “I learned more in one shift in Camden than I could in two weeks where I live,” he says.
A defining moment came when he answered a call in which a car struck children being pulled in a wagon. “The boy I was working on died. He was wearing the same pants that my son had. I thought, ‘This could be my son,’” he says. “I realized that if I still wanted to work in health care after this experience, this is what I was meant to do.”
While training to be a paramedic, Coussin already had his eye on the next level – medical school – but realized that it would take longer than he wished to be a clinician. Then, he learned about the increasing role of physician assistants in health care. “This was new to me; physician assistants didn’t exist in Israel,” he says.
Upon graduating from paramedic training last year, he enrolled at Rutgers School of Health Professions, whose physician assistant program is ranked 16th in the nation. “The more I learned about the work, the more excited I got,” says Coussin, who will complete his degree in 2019.
Coussin’s job prospects are excellent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for physician assistants is projected to grow 30 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than other occupations, partially due to the growing aging population.
“When I was studying toward my bachelor’s degree in engineering and management in Israel, I was not very interested,” says Coussin, who moved to the United States in the 1999 for business. “Now, I’m studying because the material is fascinating. I can also help my kids with their science homework – something I couldn’t do four years ago.”
Coussin says his years in business are a significant benefit. “Working as a business developer honed my skills in human interaction and gave me the ability to take a step back and look at things as a bigger picture – both of which are important in medicine,” he says. “There also are many opportunities for start-ups in health care, and I have a lot of ideas. My chapter in technology is far from over.”
As “definitely the oldest student,” Coussin finds inspiration in his classmates. “In the world of start-ups, you tend to work with your friends,” he says. “Now, I get to mix with a variety of people.”
Coussin says he loves challenging himself – regardless of the endeavor. “I approach my studies as I did my time in the army and in business: like it is an endurance sport,” says Coussin, a triathlete who has run six New York City Marathons. Despite the rigors of school, he still works one 12-hour EMT shift a month in Short Hills, and hopes one day his son will join him.
“I share what I learn and see each day with my kids,” he says. “I don’t want them to live in a bubble; I teach them there’s a world outside of our town.”