How we’re developing the next generation of physician assistants
For anyone looking to change careers, questions abound. Am I making the right decision? Will going back to school full-time pay off? What’s my dream job really like day to day?
For MD Anderson employees looking to become physician assistants (PA), the answers are close at hand, because the institution has a team of mentors ready to share their experiences and guide current employees through the PA school application process.
“The application process for PA school is selective and difficult. Only about a third of the applicants are accepted,” says Jocelyn Mitchell, who worked as a research assistant before linking up with a PA mentor. Mitchell is now a PA in MD Anderson’sGastrointestinal Center.
“With a mentorship program like this, we’re helping aspiring PAs stand out during the application process and be successful in their new chosen field,” she says.
Physician assistants: a growing profession
MD Anderson’s physician assistant mentoring program began in 2013, as clinics were growing — and with them, the need for more advance practice providers. Today, MD Anderson employs 325 PAs – more than any other organization in the U.S. – and the growth continues.
“It can be hard to find enough qualified candidates for all of our PA openings,” says Katie DeLucia, associate director in the PA office. “We began this program as a way to recruit from within and guide employees who want the opportunity for growth to get degrees and come back to MD Anderson as practicing physician assistants.”
Each mentee is assigned a current PA as their mentor, and they meet monthly to discuss the mentee’s application to PA school. The mentor answers questions about the profession and provides support throughout the application and interview process. Some mentees take the time to shadow their mentors in the clinic.
“My mentor is fantastic and so encouraging,” says Nichole Flanagan, a senior patient advocate. “It’s a huge confidence booster to have access to this wealth of knowledge, and it means so much to have her read my application materials and hear her say, ‘You can do this!’”
Socials, lectures and other events also expose participants to all aspects of the profession and give them the chance to interact with all of the program’s mentors.
“Caring and compassion are embedded in our hearts and woven into the fabric of MD Anderson,” adds Flanagan. “I desired to make a larger impact, and seeing our PAs at work fueled that desire. They truly take time to connect and communicate with patients and families. I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
Training future MD Anderson physician assistants
As more and more employees go through the program – 55 so far – it can seem strange to help prepare employees to leave the institution.
“Every member of our 2017 cohort was accepted to PA school,” DeLucia says. “Thanks to this program’s professional development efforts, our mentees are on their way to becoming certified PAs and returning to MD Anderson in the future.”
This pipeline has served aspiring PAs well, and many hope to pay it forward.
“I plan to return to MD Anderson after graduation,” Flanagan says. “Serving as an advance practice provider would be a full circle experience for me.”
A longer version of this story originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson’s quarterly publication for employees, volunteers, retirees and their families.