Why PA?

I didn’t participate in some cathartic medical mission trip to an impoverished country.

Nor was I inspired by a family member’s catastrophic diagnosis.

And I certainly wasn’t born into a family with a long tradition of medical professionals.

Having fun while working hard with the next generation of PAs.

While scrutinizing literally hundreds of personal statements penned by hopeful physician assistant program applicants last week, these were the themes I recurrently encountered. In quest of assembling a cohort of qualified, motivated future PAs, I was oftentimes impressed and sometimes even inspired. Quite frankly, though, I was occasionally bored. Yet, reading each “5000 characters or less” baring of professional hopes and dreams I couldn’t help but to remain self-reflective. The all but palpable passion conveyed by these narrative writers yearning to join my profession prompted me to ask myself again after nearly a decade: Why PA?

I could share something neat and tidy about lateral mobility, having more time to spend with patients, and getting through school more quickly to justify the decision I made to become a PA and not an MD or DO or PT or any of the other alphabet soup of medial professions. Those are the talking points that seemingly every PA, PA student, and pre-PA has in their back pocket. Sure, those are all great, but none were my answer to that question: Why PA?

You see, I grew up in a rural area. A very rural area. Like, I had less than 10 people in my high school class rural. Sure, we had some physicians at the medical centers in nearby towns, but growing up most of my medical care was delivered by PAs and nurse practitioners (NPs). From a young age, these non-physician providers (or advanced practice providers, which is our currently preferred nomenclature) were the medical provider role models to whom I was exposed.

When I went on to college, I earned good grades and worked in a small-town hospital emergency department. One of the PAs at this hospital took me under her wing. I don’t know what she saw in me, but she talked to me about medicine; she listened to me; she encouraged me. I didn’t know it then, but she was one of my first mentors. PA, MD, OT…at that point I could have picked any one of these from the alphabet soup of health professions and probably thrived. However, it was the combination of positive role modeling by PAs in my adolescence and young adult life that helped me decidedly answer the question: Why PA?

To the future healthcare professionals out there questioning Why PA? Why MD?: find a mentor. To my fellow alphabet soup of healthcare providers (I’m looking at you NPs, PAs, RNs, MDs, DOs, PTs, CRNAs): be a mentor.

Who knows, it may inspire the future. At the very least, it’ll make for a sincere personal statement.

Janelle Bludorn is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine Physician Assistant Program. Hailing from a dirt road town in South Dakota, she has practiced emergency medicine coast to coast: from laid-back beach towns of Southern California to hallowed halls of New England academic hospitals. In the little time she spends off campus and outside of the ER she enjoys yoga, long walks with her dog, and justifiable outspokenness. Hear her tweet @JanelleRBlu.