Journalist Turned PA Leader
By Dave Andrews
For Sheri A. Shebairo, MBA, PA-C, getting to the bottom of an issue has been a driving force throughout her professional life. Her first career was as a television news reporter in New York, but she always knew she wanted to have a more personal impact on the lives of others.
Shebairo’s curiosity and eagerness to learn led her to make the life-changing decision to pursue a career in healthcare.
“While volunteering on weekends in the oncology unit at a New York-based children’s hospital, I felt compelled to continue giving back on a full-time basis,” she said. “I learned more about the PA profession and knew that was what I wanted to pursue.”
After graduating from the PA program at Hofstra University in 2005, she accepted her first position as a PA in surgical and critical care at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, just outside of New York City. Shebairo’s interest in process improvement and team engagement prompted her to seek out ways to get more involved, and she soon began taking on administrative and leadership roles in addition to her clinical duties.
These days, Shebairo serves as the director of PA services in the Department of Surgery at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in Manhattan. Shebairo dedicates much of her time ensuring compliance with regulatory standards for her staff, developing her department’s organizational structure for PAs and managing a staff of approximately 60 people.
Shebairo is currently the only PA in her department in an administrative leadership position. When time allows or when her department is short staffed, she continues to practice clinically in plastic and reconstructive surgery. Doing so helps her maintain her clinical skillset and gives her better awareness and understanding to effectively manage clinicians and address their needs.
“Sheri has continually demonstrated her personal interest in the professional well-being of those she works with,” says Michelle Rogers, PA-C, who has worked with Sheri at MSKCC for nearly seven years. “She created a unique PA mentor program that partners new and current PAs across different services to enhance interaction and build stronger relationships among the PAs.”
Rogers notes that when Shebairo became the lead PA for the department of surgery, she immediately took ownership of that role, improving the department’s organization and going out to meet with all surgical service leaders to discuss any challenges they were facing and potential strategies for improvement.
Creating and developing programs and processes, and problem-solving are what Shebairo says she loves most about her job. Much like her early career as a news reporter, she is continually asking questions and investigating issues to find improvement opportunities.
“I really enjoy going into a situation where we collaborate, build a strategy and implement a plan that leads to process or situational improvement,” Shebairo said. “The solution we develop may not always be the solution, but having an open dialogue is the first step forward that leads us in the right direction.”
Shebairo recently completed the Executive MBA Program at the Frank G. Zarb School of Business at Hofstra University. Although she acknowledged that having an advanced degree is not a requirement to be a successful leader, she said that she has noticed that it’s starting to become the norm throughout healthcare.
“For me, it wasn’t a necessity to get the degree for my career development, but rather a want,” Shebairo said. “It’s helped me better understand different perspectives on how to manage various issues. But for others, [getting an advanced degree] may not be the right path.”
Shebairo said the best leaders aren’t always the ones with the most education or the longest list of accolades, but rather, they are those who know how to effectively engage a group and understand the core principles of leadership, which, she says, involves bringing out the best in their staff and finding ways to emphasize their talents.
“Having worked under Sheri for nearly two years now, I’ve watched her continually work hard to create a very PA-friendly work place,” said Mike Patane, PA-C, at MSKCC. “She’s very dedicated to bringing about resolutions and building consensus among all parties. It’s great to work with someone who you know will always have your back.”
Though her administrative career developed much quicker than she had anticipated, Shebairo is happy to have found her calling where she can make a difference. Her leadership roles have even broadened beyond her duties at MSKCC, as she is currently a district director and business development committee chair at the New York State Society of Physician Assistants, as well as an AAPA House delegate for New York State.
“I could never have predicted this career path—from TV journalist to director of PA services—but I’ve lived my life by following my heart and intuition, and I feel extremely grateful and lucky to be where I am today.”
Dave Andrews is a freelance writer based in Northern Virginia. Contact him at [email protected].