Lessons From My First Surgical PA Practice

By Kimberly Mackey, MPAS, PA-C

I started PA school believing I wanted to be a primary care provider. Growing up, our pediatrician’s value was worth gold in our family. He was there for every milestone for each sibling. My childhood experiences shaped my young mind into believing I wanted to play the same role in other families.More importantly, he was there for what I like to refer to as “family emergency” situations. As a child, I accidentally swallowed a paperclip right before bedtime. I remember my worried mother handing me the phone to speak to my pediatrician. My Norman Rockwell-esque pediatrician was always a call away, even if it was after hours. Luckily, I was just fine.

I suppose we all find our own path in time. After PA clinical rotations, I found surgery.

My first PA job was in orthopaedic surgery. I became fascinated with surgery and the operating room. As medical providers, we learn a lot during our first years of medical practice. Reflecting on my first two years of practice, below are three lessons that medical textbooks didn’t teach me as a student.  We make a big difference in a patient’s life

There is a lot of preparation before and after a patient goes into the operating room. As a PA provider, I played a large role in the before and after surgical care. This is where I really got to know our patients.

A patient’s wife once told me she considered our healthcare team as her extended family. Our team had gone through so much with her family members, ranging from trauma and unexpected broken bones to planned surgeries. Her comment made me realize the impact we have as clinicians on our patients’ lives.

Similar to my pediatrician growing up, I quickly learned we are in a position to have a strong positive influence in the lives of our  patients and their families during a vulnerable time.

Importance of patient trust 

Having a patient open up and entrust you with personal information within the first few seconds of meeting isn’t always easy. Gaining this trust, however, ultimately results in better patient care. The more information we know, our patient history improves and thus, we can do our job better as providers.

Honesty is a two-way street. If I expect honesty, I also give honest answers to difficult questions from patients. Sometimes medical conditions and disease can present atypically and we as providers need time and more tests to work toward a correct diagnosis.

I tell my patients I may not have all the information I need to make a diagnosis, but we will work together as a team to find the best treatment plan for them. I believe honesty builds a strong relationship between the patient and medical provider. It allows improved, personalized care for the patient.

We are a team in healthcare

The value of supportive [collaborating] physicians has proven invaluable in my professional life. The clinical opinion of a trusted colleague helps the pieces of a patient puzzle come together.

Team members,  surgical technicians, nurses, medical assistants, and surgical assistants, see the patient in a different part of their surgical experience and thus have an important perspective to offer in the patient’s treatment.

My [collaborating] surgeons and I communicate about patients we are closely watching, share opinions on difficult patients, and work as a team to give our patients the best care possible.

As I move on with the next adventure in my PA career, I will use the knowledge and wisdom graciously taught from my previous, experienced healthcare team. I have overwhelming gratitude toward each teammate who taught me more than medical books ever could.

Kimberly Mackey, MPAS, PA-C is a recent graduate of the Norwalk/Yale PA surgical residency. She specializes in cardiothoracic surgery. Follow her on Twitter @kimmackeyPA and LinkedIn.

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