From time to time, it’s insightful to get a chance to hear what medical professionals have to say about their continuing medical education and the unique paths their careers have taken. We were able to sit down with Theresa Rand, a physician assistant in cardiothoracic/vascular surgery currently in Advanced Practice’s Locum Tenens program, which allows her the flexibility to spend a few months in one city before traveling to a new destination and trying something new. She started her career as a nurse but decided to go back to school to see what other opportunities were there for the taking. We asked her about her educational and career experiences.
What made you decide to pursue a career as a physician assistant?
I was a nurse and had so many “why” questions that no one would answer so I went back to school to find the answers myself.
What sorts of strategies do you use to stay abreast of new medical techniques and procedures?
I receive three journals and have email blasts from my different areas of practice. I get newsletters from: Society of Thoracic Surgeons, Society of Critical Care Medicine, American Academy of Physician Assistants, and Association of Physician Assistants in Cardiovascular Surgery. I also attend several meetings. I have attended hands-on training seminars for invasive procedures including intubations, line placement and endoscopic vein harvest.
Do you learn best in a hands-on environment or through online instruction?
I learn best from being involved. Whether being involved is hands-on (which procedures need to be) or an online course, as long as there is interaction I can learn. For me, interaction could be in the form of questions, a test or animated “hands-on” if live procedures aren’t possible.
What’s been the most challenging part of your job?
In the beginning, it was changing my thought process from a nursing standpoint to a medical standpoint. Now it is more in line with dealing with regulations that make little medical or financial sense. Pairing that with trying to do the best for patients who have no interest in taking care of themselves is very challenging. Those patients have the “somebody else will do it” attitude.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Successfully taking care of someone and they do well as a result. Saving a life!
If you could pursue a new specialization, which field would you choose and why?
It would be transplant surgery. I have done heart and lung transplants and there is nothing more rewarding than seeing someone so sick get better.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned about the certification/recertification process?
Overall, I feel like I really learn something new because in my day-to-day routine I don’t deal with most of the topics that are required for the test. Helps me stay on my toes, so to speak, and brings me up to speed on new techniques and technology.
Where do you see continuing education going in the future?
Unless more organizations see the benefit in live instruction and invest in the knowledge of their staff, I see it being more online as time and money play a bigger factor. Hopefully the former wins out!
What is one thing you think will be an important part of a PA’s career moving forward?
It is possible to “out charge” ourselves. As the demand goes up but reimbursement declines, we can cost more than we can bill. That will require us to be more efficient with our daily procedures.
Can you impart any words of wisdom for others deciding how to continue their education in the medical field?
Always be on the lookout for things that will be helpful for you. There are many resources out there for the using, and the industry will thrive if more people demand more learning resources and opportunities. Always keep that excitement of learning something new!
Theresa was a nurse on her hospital’s cardiac floor for three years before going back to school, and she’s been in cardiac surgery for over 20 years. Her daily workload involves taking care of patients in the ICU or critical care unit. She also works regularly in the operating room to harvest veins from the leg and work across from the surgeon assisting in all types of cases that include the chest and blood vessels. She currently resides in Virginia, but her program will have her moving to Wyoming in the new year. We thank Theresa so much for her time and insights!