Two PAs Discuss Importance of Obesity Education to Patient Care

Attend Obesity Leadership Edge Symposium to be Part of Solution

By Kate Maloney

Obesity is a multi-faceted and far-reaching disease, and one that Americans will continue to be affected by in the coming years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates national obesity-related medical costs were $147 billion, and that people who have obesity had medical costs nearly $1500 higher than those of a normal weight. More than one-third of U.S. adults have obesity which can lead to other serious medical conditions including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. For PAs interested in obesity medicine, consider joining AAPA’s PAs in Obesity Medicine special interest group and join your colleagues in conversation about this increasingly important issue. Two PAs, Karli Burridge and Amy Ingersoll, met in PA school at Midwestern University and have both focused their careers on obesity medicine. Here, they share their perspectives.

A Desire to Improve Health

Karli Burridge, PA-C

Karli Burridge didn’t always know she would end up in obesity medicine. She says, “I was fascinated with the effects of exercise on both physical and mental health, but also wanted to learn how I could most effectively help people change their health behaviors.” She was pursuing a career as an exercise physiologist when she read “Prescription for a Healthy Nation,” by Tom Farley, and rethought her professional future. As a healthcare provider, she realized, she could most effectively impact people’s lives and health. She first worked in family medicine, focusing on nutrition, physical activity, and behavior change, but then took a position at a bariatric surgery practice when her family moved to Texas. There, she was able to leverage her undergraduate education in psychology and physiology, her family practice experience, and her newfound “passion helping people affected by obesity, treating patients more effectively, and removing much of the misplaced stigma and shame associated with this disease.”

Amy Ingersoll, PA-C

Like Burridge, Amy Ingersoll didn’t know she’d find herself a practicing PA in obesity medicine. She had planned to be a Spanish teacher, like her parents, but after her mother challenged her to consider a career in medicine, she remembered a hugely positive experience she and her family had with PA-provided healthcare during her childhood. She appreciated that PAs took the time to get to know their patients and helped improve quality of life. Ingersoll sought out obesity management in her internal medicine practice, when she “realized I was simply managing objective findings and wasn’t helping any of my patients improve their health.”

A Natural Fit

More than one-third of the U.S. adult population is currently affected by obesity and all PAs – no matter their specialty – will see the results of obesity at some point in their practice. “Obesity is a complex and progressive disease,” Ingersoll says, and it is at the root of many chronic medical conditions. Burridge adds that “obesity affects nearly every organ system in the body and effective treatment ameliorates or resolves many other medical conditions.” It is a field that will continue to grow as healthcare professionals understand more about the multi-faceted disease.

PAs practicing obesity medicine is a natural fit, in Burridge’s opinion. “PAs are uniquely positioned to be thought-leaders in this field, because I think that educating and showing compassion and having the drive to want to help people come naturally to many of us who chose to become a PA,” she says.

Ingersoll agrees that since PAs practice in all specialties and all healthcare environments, they can start seeing obesity as a disease and making diagnoses. “We can understand the basic science behind it, create treatment plans, and establish a referral network for obesity management,” she says.

Get Involved Now

AAPA 2018 is offering a one-day, eight-hour Obesity Leadership Edge Symposium, where attendees will learn about the pathophysiology behind obesity, some of the treatment options available to patients with obesity, and how healthcare professionals are integral to this ongoing epidemic. Burridge notes that education is key as “most of us did not receive sufficient – if any – training in obesity treatment during our formal education,” so seeking out events like the Obesity Leadership Edge Symposium is vital to those who are interested in obesity medicine.

For those who can’t attend AAPA 2018, Learning Central currently offers seven online obesity modules. Additionally, AAPA, AANP, and OMA are launching an 15-month program to educate healthcare providers on obesity medicine, and will award participants a Certificate in Primary-Care Obesity Management upon completion. For those interested in the certificate program, keep your eye on AAPA’s website, get involved with the PAs in Obesity Medicine through their Facebook group, or send an email to [email protected].

For PAs interested in helping improve patients’ lives, Ingersoll strongly recommends considering obesity medicine. With the addition of obesity management to her own practice, she recalls many successes – improvement in chronic disease states, vast improvement in metabolic markers, and most importantly, improvement in quality of life. Some of her patients have been able to hug their spouses for the first time, sit comfortably at the movie theater or on a plane, and feel in control of their health. Practicing obesity medicine impacts patient health, quality of life, and overall wellbeing. “If that’s not a rewarding career choice,” she says, “I’m not sure what is.”

Kate Maloney is AAPA’s senior manager of corporate communications. Contact her at [email protected].