[Guest Post] My Pathway To PA
Guest contributor Justine Roberts, PA-C discusses how her childhood ideas led her to discover her dream job and a more fulfilling career than she could have imagined.
If you were to ask me, as a toddler what I wanted to become, I’d give you a dissertation on the value of notebook paper and scotch tape— I could fashion you anything out of those two very valuable resources. My mother still has a pair of slippers I created for her. Had the fashion designer phase lasted, those could’ve been worth a lot of money today.
My “popsicle stick and glue” phase allowed for the production of more durable goods, and my mom’s favorite trivet is evidence of that.
I also went through a chef phase, which included stirring an array of candy in a bowl and serving it as a delicacy. The real highlight of that was going to buy penny candy at Mr. Hammond’s lawnmower shop (yes, really, and it was awesome). Imagine associating the smell of oil and grass with Fun Dip and those little sugar covered watermelon slices. Sigh… those were the days…
In Nursery School we had a field trip to our local hospital. I decided I definitely wanted to be a nurse. But at about the same time, age four or so, I had recurrent urinary tract infections, which required urinary catheter placement. I associated those with nurses, who I more affectionately referred to as “dammits,” and no longer wanted any part of that. I wanted to be a PA.
Becoming a physician assistant was the perfect opportunity for someone who loves so many different aspects of medicine. I wanted to do procedures for a living. I wanted to change lives and make people feel better and have a direct impact. I wanted to be a Physician Assistant because of who they were and how they embody a holistic concern for the patient. They were known for being able to spend more time with patients, and really develop relationships.
I was 16 when I filled out my PA school application, and 17 on my first day of classes. I walked onto my college campus with a year of college credits from high school under my belt, and an excitement to learn everything I possibly could. I loved every second of it (except for the seconds that I hated it), and never questioned my decision (except for those moments where I did—just for a second).
Toward the end of the fall semester of my fourth year of PA school, we were each handed the same piece of paper with a list of four offices that welcomed students. I fell in love on my first day of shadowing. It was at a private practice at an Ambulatory Surgery Center,with my future employer, Dan Nevarre. Hand surgery, reconstructive skin cancer surgery, and really taking care of people along the way was one thousand percent what I had been looking for.
I had no idea how much I could love every aspect of a practice. I could do everything I had wanted to do as a surgeon, as a PA! My decision was made—I knew exactly what I wanted in that moment. I wanted to be a Plastic Surgery Physician Assistant. It was the most bizarre feeling- I knew I needed to be here.
My boss offered me a job in May 2008, just three days after I earned my Bachelor of Science in Health Science. I have not regretted my decision, ever, even for a second. Roles change over time. Procedures evolve, technology changes, and drugs fall in and out of favor. The one thing that hasn’t changed is my love and respect for this subspecialty and this calling of mine. You have to continue to grow.
I’ve earned a number of other credentials along the way. A few years back, I became board certified as a Registered Vascular Technologist because of my work and interest in venous insufficiency. I’ll be finished with my Masters of Business Administration degree in a few weeks, just in time for vegetable gardening and golf season.
Sometimes patients ask me what it’s like being “just” a Physician Assistant, and I’ve learned to answer that question much more eloquently than years ago: “I sure am! Have you had much experience with PA’s in the past?” I find it a great opportunity to educate people about who we are, and what we do. Before you know it, they’re proudly talking about the PA they see at their primary care office, or over at the neighboring subspecialty clinics.
I think there’s something special about keeping in touch with that inner 5 year-old. There’s something magical about being able to choose who you want to be when you grow up—the world is wide open. You also don’t have to be bound by the constraints of your primary career goals. Everything works hand in hand—somehow there’s a mutually beneficial relationship between hobbies and work and education.
I challenge you to get lost in the spin of your wildest dreams. Figure out what you would do if it were as simple as being little again—as simple as just “helping people”.
I love being a Physician Assistant. Going to work every day with a smile on my face is more than I ever could have hoped for in a career. I look forward to 30+ more years of listening and helping and healing. As for what I want to be when I grow up… I’ll let you know when I figure it out .
Medelita HIP Ambassador Justine Roberts, PA-C is a committed, humble clinician who works to impact the lives of her patients beyond just their incisions and sutures. Justine spends much of her time talking with her patients about changes they can make to better their lives.