Having been in the medical profession for more than a few years, I can assure you that it is an exciting time to be entering this field. Medicine is changing. It is a time of decreasing reimbursements and we are all expected to do more with less. Some would see this as a negative, but I see it as a positive for our profession. With ultrasound, point of care testing, and maybe even Optimal Team Practice (OTP), I am hopeful that PAs can continue to drive changes in healthcare. When I became a PA, people thought we were medical assistants or nurse’s aides. Those are important jobs and I really appreciate those members of the healthcare team, but that is not what I sat through hours of grueling school to do. If I only had a dollar for every time I was asked “You just get the room ready for the doctor, right? You clean it and change the paper on the exam table?” With time and persistence, things have changed. I can tell you that we all spent hours educating patients about what we do. I never get asked those questions anymore. I generally hear stories about how people love “their PA.” There are several important things that I learned along the way, so I made a list of my top ten. I hope that you don’t mind me sharing and that you find them helpful.
Be inquisitive. If you don’t know something, look it up. You will likely remember it the next time. It’s acceptable to ask questions of other professionals, but don’t expect to be spoon-fed the information. If you take the time to research something, it shows that you are genuinely interested. As a boss, I can tell you that this is highly valued. Don’t ever pass up the opportunity to see or learn something new. If a medical provider offers to show you something or teach you something, jump at the chance. Those are golden nuggets! If you turn down an opportunity once, I can guarantee you that you won’t be offered it again.
Always look the part. Dress professionally. I always tell my students “Even if you are unsure of yourself, you need to look like you know what you are doing.” I am lucky that I have always looked younger than my actual age. I would be asked “Are you sure you are old enough to take care of me?” “Are you sure you are old enough to write a prescription?” I started to wear a suit to work every day. Guess what? I stopped getting asked those questions. It totally changed the dynamic of the patient encounter.
Don’t become complacent. Never stop being just a little bit afraid. That’s what keeps us on our toes and hopefully out of trouble. It’s OK to make mistakes, but be sure to own them and learn from them. You can’t grow as a person or as a provider if you can’t acknowledge failure and vow to improve for the next time.
This one is in honor of my mom, God rest her soul. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Treat each patient with the kindness and respect that you would expect your own family member to receive.
Find one thing in common with each patient you treat, even if it something small. That personal touch goes so far. It makes your patients remember that you care. It makes them feel so much more comfortable Sometimes, that’s all we have to offer folks. Often, it is more valuable than the most expensive medicine you can buy.
Be kind to each other. The profession would go so far if we could just stop bickering. We need to work to stop the many divisions that exist in this profession. I can tell you this from personal experience. When I became a PA, there was a giant chiasm between PAs and NPs. Once we figured out how to get along and work together, things improved drastically for all of us.
Always remember that people are watching. You could be the latest You Tube sensation at any time. I am hoping that this is not one of your life goals.
Have a Plan B. This is a tough profession, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Be prepared to recreate yourself. You truly don’t know what can happen. Many of you know how many times I have had to do that through the years. You know what? I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m not saying live in fear, but simply be prepared.
There is a famous saying, “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” Don’t tolerate mediocrity, or worse, sub-standard care. Don’t be a tattle tale, but don’t be afraid to stand up for what’s right. When presented with a choice, always so the right thing, even if it is more difficult. We will not be successful in advancing this profession unless we raise the bar.
Remember how many people were nice to you and helped you on your journey of knowledge. Now, it’s your turn. Each and every one of us is an educator, even if we don’t consciously choose to be. We are educating patients, families, friends, neighbors, and other members of the healthcare team on a daily basis. Please strive to be a good educator.
I can tell you that your learning is just beginning. Almost every day, I draw on something that I learned years ago in my original first aid class. The next moment, I utilize something that is fresh knowledge. I hope that the same will be true for all of you. Please, I beg you to work hard and never stop learning.