Neurosurgery PA Combines Love of Music, Medicine, and Science

Healthcare Can Promote Creativity, Innovation, Inspiration, and Healing

By Eileen Denne, CAE, APR

May 21, 2020

Bioengineering, music, and medicine don’t have much in common. But Christophe E. Jackson, PhD, DMA, PA-C, is enthusiastic about each, and he thinks the PA profession offers an opportunity to take advantage of the best of the three worlds.

“I chose the PA profession because it offered many benefits given my unique background and interests. I was accepted to medical school and was offered a chance to enter the MD/PhD program and chose to become a PhD/PA instead. I saw that there were many gaps in our healthcare system which would require individuals capable of bridging that gap. PAs have historically filled that role.

“As a gay, bi-racial African American male with advanced degrees, I also understand the importance of continued diversity and inclusion within our profession. We need all hands on deck more than ever before. Additionally, I honestly believe that my background and training as a PhD, musician, and PA were not means to end, or a check list to get to the next step. They consisted of essential building blocks to ultimately becoming a better human being.”

Jackson with one of his attending Neuro Critical Care physicians, Dr. Giuseppe Ciccotto, taking care of Neuro and COVID patients in the Neuro ICU of Ochsner.

Doctorates in bioengineering and piano performance
Jackson followed the unusual path of earning doctorates in bioengineering and piano performance at University of Alabama (UAB), and completing post-doctoral training in neuroscience and music prior to returning to study as a PA. After PA school, he started as a neuro ICU PA in the neuro critical care unit at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans.

At Ochsner, in the largest neuro critical care unit in the southeast, he was among the frontline providers at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. Critical care ICU PA skill sets include vent management and the ability to perform procedures such as central lines, arterial lines, intubations, and management of pressors. These were critical competencies to give patients a fighting chance at life, Jackson says.

New Orleans: music, medicine, and culture
He recently accepted a position as a neurosurgery PA with CarePoint Health in the Denver, Colorado area, but is a native of New Orleans. “New Orleans is home and a magical city that combines my love of music, medicine, and culture. Ochsner is the largest healthcare system and jobs provider in Louisiana and can boast of some of the best clinicians and programs.

“I had the pleasure of training with the best-of-the-best from around the world, and, unfortunately in many cases, caring for some of the sickest patients. My decision to move to CarePoint Neurosurgery was so that I could continue to grow as a neurology-focused PA, expand my capacities in surgical management, and grow as a provider. As a mentor of mine stated, you can’t be from New Orleans if you remain in New Orleans.”

At CarePoint Neurosurgery, Jackson works in the inpatient and outpatient settings. He reads neuro imaging, develops treatment plans, and participates in surgical procedures alongside his surgeon to advance neurological care to patients.

Design consulting for med tech companies
In addition to being a clinician, Jackson also serves as a research professor at Tulane University with a focus in medical devices design for the neurosciences and healthcare of performing artists. When he completed his PhD in Biology, Mechanical Engineering and Music, he developed a medical device: a Portable Sound Booth, to measure the voice and hearing of musicians. The process gave him incredible insights into how to design and develop solutions, and this skill piqued the interest of medical device companies, Jackson says.

He also taught undergraduate and graduate sciences labs in physics, biology, music, anatomy, and physiology. Combined with his clinical training as a PA, he became a clinical design engineer. Jackson has lead innovation projects for Johnson & Johnson and continues to do design consulting for medical tech start-up and companies as a scientist, engineer, or consultant.

Christophe E. Jackson, PhD, DMA, PA-C, playing piano in the atrium of Ochsner Hospital Main Campus in New Orleans.

‘Music is part of me’
Jackson shares his love of music at home, at work, and on his social channels. “Music is a part of me. I have played since I was four years old. It has grown as I have grown and continues to do so. It has offered me the canvas to express emotions and connect when connection and empathy are most difficult to both express and experience. I was accepted to many prominent music schools across the country. However, I was unwilling to give up my musical side or my scientific interests.

“The professor I wanted to study with at Julliard ended up coming to UAB, so I went to college there and was able to do both my medical and musical training as a dual major. I eventually received my doctorate in music. I have trained with mentors in jazz like Victor Adkins, and classical masters such as Dr. Yakov Kasmon.”

After losing his music mentor, Ellis Marsalis, to COVID-19, Jackson was featured in a news story (minute eight) that was a tribute to healthcare workers in which he talks about Marsalis and New Orleans.

He sees himself performing music, advancing scientific discoveries, and treating patients in the next decade in clinical practice academia, industry, and community. He would like to advance care for patients, and expand training and experiential learning required for the continued growth and advancement of PAs.

“My passion is to set an example that healthcare can promote creativity, innovation, inspiration, and healing if we allow it. I hope to establish clinics to promote the health, well-being, and medical care of performing artists and to ensure that arts and medicine are promoted.”

Neurosurgery PA Christophe E. Jackson, PhD, DMA, PA-C

‘We need to take care of ourselves”
“We need to take care of ourselves as healthcare providers,” Jackson says of those treating COVID-19 patients and others. “Take moments to laugh, cry, love, and be loved by those who support us. Cherish every moment with others both positive and negative. This life is all we get. Make the most of it and take any moment you can to cherish yourself and those who support you.”

For PA students who are still in school or have just graduated, Jackson has this advice: “Experience matters most as a PA. Our profession is designed to be in constant learning life-long. Get as much experience as you can and seek out opportunities that may at first seem uncomfortable.”

Although he wanted to be a neurosurgery PA, a mentor encouraged him to try a role as a neuro critical care ICU PA.

“It was the best decision of my career! I got to review and re-visit many topics fresh out of school as well learn more about critical care medicine. This is now a vital component of my skill set no matter what area I choose to practice.”

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Eileen Denne, CAE, APR, is director, Corporate Communications, at AAPA. Contact her at [email protected].