In our new series, Health Workforce Warriors, we will be interviewing health care professionals that work every day to advance the health and well-being of Hoosiers. We hope that this series may provide a lens into the perspective and contributions of Indiana’s “boots on the ground” health professionals.
Our first guest is Kara who serves as a physician assistant (PA) in internal medicine at St. Vincent.
What did your road to becoming a physician assistant look like?
I love medicine and have always wanted to go into some aspect of healthcare. My mom is a hospice nurse, my dad is a psychologist, one sister is a Physician Assistant and the other is about to graduate as a Nurse Practitioner! The thought of medical school felt daunting to me and I wasn’t sure I wanted to dedicate that much of my life to school. I heard more about PAs when my sister started at the IU program and realized it was the job for me!
I did my undergrad at IU Bloomington in psychology, which I had grow up loving due to my dad being in psychology. I worked as a scribe in the community emergency department for a couple of years and learned to love emergency medicine.
After undergrad, I went to PA school at IU Indianapolis, which was a new program at the time. After graduation, I began a position in orthopedic surgery, doing solely hip and knee replacements. I quickly became tired of the monotony and searched for another position. I eventually landed in internal medicine at St Vincent! It’s a lot of information but I am loving it and learning fast. It helps that I have the best faculty physicians helping me out. I have a strong passion for learning and am passionately curious. Because internal medicine requires you to know a little of everything instead of having specialized knowledge it’s been a perfect fit. It keeps me on my toes and always provides opportunities for learning.
What does a workday look like for you?
I work 7 days on and 7 days off, which has been interesting schedule to get used to. I am currently working 8am-6pm while I am still orienting and learning about internal medicine. My biggest job is to admit patients to the hospital, which is a long process of orders and researching and seeing the patients. I also sometimes work on the observation unit, which is for people staying less than 2 midnights. While there, I do patient rounds, catch up on their case, and discharge from there.
What are your favorite parts about being a PA? What makes you excited to go to work?
I like the ability to switch easily between fields. As I mentioned before, I started off in orthopedic surgery for a year then realized I didn’t feel like I was being mentally challenged and changed to my current position, which I started in April. I also like that school is much shorter than a physician’s, so I was able to get out and start working much earlier. In my current position, I love how admitting patients is like a puzzle you have to solve, what’s going on, what to order, etc. I also like that I get a good amount of autonomy and am very lucky that I have a great group of faculty physicians willing to help and teach me.
What are the biggest challenges you face day-to-day?
In my current position, the clinical knowledge is challenging. A lot of PAs end up specializing, but general internal medicine means I must know some of everything. I know some PAs deal with a level of distrust between physicians and physician assistant, but luckily I haven’t run into this too much. Things like calling a consult or giving recommendations/orders to another physician can be difficult when a physician sees you as less or doesn’t trust you as much as they would another physician.
What do you wish you wish you would have known before becoming a PA?
I wish I would’ve known that when you are finished with PA school and start your first job, you’ll feel like you don’t know anything. It takes some adjusting to your specific workplace and willingness to learn continuously. We are essentially at the same knowledge level (or a little lower) than first year residents. However, unlike residents, we are finished with our learning and given full responsibilities and expectations, depending on where you are. Conversely, it can also be difficult to find a job in certain areas when employers realize that there is a significant amount of on the job training. Those employers either don’t want to train new PA staff or don’t have the time to do so. Sometimes, PAs are not fully respected, but I think that is mostly going away as the profession gets more popular (it’s more than doubled over the last seven years!).
What do you wish more people knew about PAs and what they do?
I wish people knew that becoming a PA is not a stop on the way to becoming a doctor. Many of my patients ask when I plan to finish and become a doctor, which is obviously not my end goal. I’ve gotten used to it and learned to brush it off. I also want people to realize that we do have ability to diagnose and treat patients much like physicians do. I imagine that again most of these issues will go away as the profession becomes bigger in Indiana.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Kara! You can follow her on Instagram @lifewithkb
More Info on Indiana PAs
Want to learn more about Indiana’s physician assistant workforce? Check out our Physician Assistant Workforce Brief for quick illustrated facts or our Physician Assistant Data Report for a deep-dive into the numbers.
Do you know a Health Workforce Warrior?
We’d love to hear about them. Give them a shout out and tag us on Twitter or Instagram @bowenctr and use the hashtags #INhealthworkforce and #HealthWorkforceWarrior!