October 6th marked the beginning of PA Week. Physician Assistants have been enriching health care in America for 50 years now. At BRPM, our PAs play a critical roll in helping patients achieve positive pain management outcomes. As a grand finale to PA Week, we want to highlight our PAs and their efforts at BRPM. We asked our PAs, Laura, Dana, and Katie, some questions about being PAs, what they think of their roles at BRPM, in the healthcare system, and why they do what they do.
Q: What made you decide on a career as a PA?
Dana: Before being a PA I was an athletic trainer and while I loved working with athletes, I wanted to be more hands-on in the diagnoses of these athletes.
Laura: When I was in undergrad, I was interested in medicine and was pre med. I was in my organic chemistry class and there was a gentleman in my class. He was a physician assistant… That was my first knowledge of what a PA.I shadowed a Cardiology PA a couple of times and loved it. I liked the idea of autonomy that you get with being a physician assistant and felt it was a better fit for myself and future goals of having a family.
Katie: The idea of being a PA was appealing to me for multiple reasons. I liked that PAs are generally trained and therefore able to move laterally from specialty to specialty. I also liked the ability PAs have to maintain a work-life balance, especially since family is important to me and I would like to have children someday. PAs generally do less administrative and legal work compared to doctors. Finally, I liked the partnership Physician Assistants have with their supervising physicians. I learned during my time doing research that I functioned very well being supervised by someone who challenged me, mentored me, and gave me the autonomy to do my own work. The potential to have that partnership and mentorship again was monumental in my decision to pursue a career as a PA.
Q: How do you see your role as PA, specifically at BRPM?
Dana: My role at Brpm is to assist the doctors in helping see our patients more efficiently and give them the time and energy that sometimes that don’t or can’t receive with the doctors’ busy schedules. It also frees up the doctors to do surgery and procedures.
Laura: Being a midlevel provider, I am essentially an extension of the physicians. The three of us enable the practice as a whole to be a better practice in that we can manage more patients and manage them well. We are able to spend more time with them during their visit, therefore allowing us to know our patients more personally. I enjoy educating my patients by discussing the finer points of pathologic findings. With the PA’s mainly managing follow ups, physicians are freed to do procedures that the PA’s don’t do.
Katie: At BRPM, I have a lot of autonomy. I carry out the entire medical decision making process from evaluating a new symptom to formulating a diagnosis and treatment plan. As a whole, the PAs at BRPM help the doctors carry their patient loads. We do new patient consultations, routine follow ups, intrathecal pump fills, and some injections to allow the physicians more time for the specialized procedures and surgeries that do require a physician.
Q: What unique assets do you believe you, as a PA, bring to the BRPM team?
Dana: I think my assets include my background and knowledge in orthopedics and athletics. I like to spend time with patients giving them stretching and strengthening plans that help them with better flexibility and mobility.
Laura: What’s great is that all of three physician assistants are different, yet we have become great friends and work and compliment each other very well. As a whole, I think that makes each one of us better physician assistants. For me, communication is a strong quality. I believe listening and communicating well with my patients allows me to have difficult conversations with them that could ordinarily cause aggressive and temperamental behavior. At Blue Ridge Pain Management, I am a Physician Assistant. But outside of Blue Ridge Pain Management, I am a patient as well. I put myself in that situation and imagine how I would want to be told difficult things.
I also think I bring humor to the practice. I try and make my patients laugh at every visit. Apparently, I am known for my “famous cackle”. I don’t mind. I feel laughter is the best medicine.
Katie: Tough question! I have been told by others in the practice that I bring a sense of calm and encouragement, I think because I am very laid back and easygoing. I am also the youngest and newest PA in the practice. Dr. Swanson often giggles when he says that I am “young and full of enthusiasm,” but I do think there is some truth to that. I have a lot of new, fresh ideas but I am still very inquisitive and curious.
Q: What are you most passionate about for your patients?
Dana: Making their lives better through better nutrition, exercises, stretching and alternatives to using narcotics . Laura and I will be going to the cupping class in October and laura is currently doing dry needling. These are great alternatives to more invasive procedures which some patients may be hesitant to try.
Laura: I love all my patients, even the ones that don’t like me
I became a health care provider because I love to help people. Having a positive impact on someone’s life is the most rewarding part of being a Physician Assistant. I love when patients ask questions because I feel they are interested in being involved, which with pain management, is a big priority.
Katie: Self care. Chronic pain is often exacerbated by and sometimes a direct result of suboptimal self care. It’s the simple things and often the things we have the most control over yet almost always take for granted – good nutrition, hydration, exercise, and quality sleep. Take care of yourself. Be kind to your body. I promise you will feel better if you do.
Q: What are you passionate about with regards to health care in the United States?
Dana: Making it more affordable for all people. Making non narcotic options like physical therapy , independent gym program’s and even weight loss programs, nutrition programs more affordable or available to patients.
Laura: I’m a little weird with this question, as my passion with regards to health care in the United States is electronic medical records. I think if used properly, they can do wonders with patient care. Just implementing our EMR 5 years ago, we have at least doubled our patient visits a day. Five years ago we would spend 10 to 15 minutes on average with a patient and then dictate our notes for another 5 minutes which would then be sent out and be returned a week later. Now we can spend that same amount of time with our patient or longer and have our note done at point of care and it is immediately available. For me, I cannot wait for the day when all of our EMR’s are linked and we can have a patient’s complete medical record right in front of us at the point of care.
Katie: I am passionate about reimbursement for services provided by Physician Assistants. Most are aware that there is a shortage of physicians in the United States, and that is only projected to worsen. Physician Assistants are a great resource to remedy this. In fact, the PA profession was created in 1965 in response to a perceived shortage of physicians. However, Physician Assistants are often reimbursed at a lower rate than physicians for the exact same service. This hurts those who employ and pay PAs a lot more than PAs themselves. It seems to me like it would make more sense to reimburse PAs at the same rate so practices would be more likely to employ and utilize PAs to their full potential, which would overall improve patient access to healthcare.
Q: What do you enjoy about the PA life at BRPM?
Dana: Community and support between the three PAs as well as support from our doctors. I have worked other places where I did not the support of my doctors like I do here. They would do anything for me. We are a family at Brpm and that’s what I love.
Laura: I love being a PA at BRPM. I have three of the best attending physicians in the world! They understand what a PA is and how to utilize them. My attending physicians are always there if I need them. They never hesitate to teach me something or take the time to answer my questions. They genuinely care about their employees and their employees’ families. An example for me, when I was pregnant in 2012, I was sick and near the end I spent a lot of time at the doctor and hospital and there were never any questions about moving patients or changing schedules. They just made sure I was okay. As an employee at BRPM, not just a PA, it is a great place to work.
Another great thing about the PA life are the PAs. I have 2 great PAs that I work with. I met Dana 10 years ago! We went to school together. She was one of my first friends who welcomed me to Virginia. She sat behind me in my class and read my AOL instant messages with my boyfriend (who is now my husband). My goal everyday is to make her laugh
I met Katie when she interviewed at the practice. I loved her from the day that I met her. She is definitely the laid back PA. My goal every day with her is to make her laugh, too. The three of us share an office which is about the size of a small walk-in closet. We are very close and are good friends. They have qualities that I try and instill in myself. They make me a better PA and person just having them in my life.
Katie: I really value and respect the partnership I have with my physicians at BRPM. I love the other PAs I work with – we are all different yet somehow perfect together. I also love my coworkers and how close-knit we are. I enjoy my autonomy and being utilized to my full potential as a PA. I appreciate the challenges that come along with treating a variety of painful conditions. Last but not least, I enjoy taking care of patients and feeling like I am making a difference in people’s lives.
Happy PA Week, Ladies!!