Cardiology PA Viet Le Helps Pave the Way for More PA Researchers
For Le, Clinical Practice and Research Go Hand In Hand
February 23, 2023
By Dave Andrews
Teach. Treat. Research. Repeat. What to many may seem like an exhausting schedule is actually the fuel that motivates Viet Le, preventive cardiology PA and associate professor of research at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute in Murray, Utah.
Le has been practicing medicine for more than 18 years, and throughout his career, he has continually sought out new roles where he could expand his impact. He works as part-time faculty at the Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions PA Program, provides care to patients at Intermountain Healthcare, and even serves as President of the Academy of PAs in Cardiology (APAC).
However, Le still finds a way to devote most of his time to cardiovascular research at Intermountain Healthcare, where he has been for the past 10 years. For him, the research component has always been exciting because of its potential benefits and wide-ranging impact.
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“I enjoy being in clinic, but I’m only able to help my patients one at a time,” Le said. “In contrast, when we do a clinical trial, all of the things we learn can help ‘move the chains’ forward in medical science, impacting not just my patients, but all patients, having a much broader influence beyond the scope of one clinic slot.”
No Experience. No Problem.
Le started his PA career on a more traditional path of seeing patients in clinic. And for several years, he worked as a contractor with the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs in occupational medicine. But when he was offered a unique position as a PA researcher at Intermountain Healthcare, he jumped at the opportunity—even though he had no formal research experience.
“Thankfully, when I joined my first trial, the physician who was the lead investigator said he’d take me under his wing,” Le said. “Up until then, I’d only seen final, polished versions of clinical trials. But suddenly, I’m in the thick of it, seeing the errors, deviations, protocols and amendments that occur. It was an exciting, eye-opening experience.”
Le was also surprised by how long clinical trials can be—often times lasting five to seven years or more. “The physician told me, ‘Strap in, man, we’re in this for quite a while,’” Le said. “It felt a lot like the first year of being a practicing PA after graduation: You know some of the structure, but you just have to dig in and learn all you can as fast as possible.”
Through the years, Le’s dedicated approach to his work and quality of his research have not only earned him the respect of his colleagues, but also paved the way for more PAs to join their practice. Thanks in large part to Le, the Heart Institute’s research team is in the process of recruiting another PA to support both clinical and research projects.
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“Viet’s work exemplifies how the role of the PA has evolved and been demonstrated so well over the years,” said Jeffrey Anderson, MD, medical director of preventive cardiology at Intermountain Health. “This is a wonderful new pattern in terms of relying even more on the skills of PAs, particularly in the area of research, where there is a growing opportunity to open new doors, provide new treatment, and expand access to care and disease management.”
Applying Research to Practice
Le approaches his clinical work with just as much fervor as he approaches his research. And for him, the two often go hand in hand, which is why he relishes the moments when a clinical question will come to mind while he’s treating one of his patients.
“Healthcare is continually evolving, and because of this, providers will continue to develop questions or identify gaps in certain guidelines,” Le said. “But unfortunately, not everyone has access to the resources to go further, to get the data and analyze it. But I feel fortunate to get to do all of those things!”
Because of his research obligations, Le is only afforded two half-day clinics each week. But he is sure to maximize every moment with each of his patients, most of whom are high risk and have a variety of complex cardiovascular diseases.
Educating the Next Generation of PAs
The level of attention Le devotes to his patients is similar to what he gives to his students. In his role as associate professor at Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions, Le spends between four and eight hours each week teaching a variety of cardiovascular topics to aspiring PAs.
“Even when he’s speaking to a group of people or to an entire classroom, he has the ability to make you feel as though you’re the only person in the room,” said Tyler Sommers, PA-C, director of the university’s PA program.
“And when you’re talking to him, he gives you his complete attention in return, even though you know he’s working on a million other things at the same time,” continued Sommers, who has worked with Le ever since the two of them both came to Rocky Mountain University in 2015. “I know he applies that same focus to his practice and to his research.”
Teaching comes naturally for Le because he loves seeing his future colleagues work to gain the knowledge and confidence to one day go out and practice on their own. And as an underlying theme of his course teachings, Le always looks for ways to emphasize the importance of maintaining a patient-centric approach.
“There are so many things in the world of healthcare that are not in our control,” Le said. “But what is in our control is the ability to help the patient make informed decisions about their health while ensuring their values and dignity are honored and kept intact.”
Dave Andrews is a freelance writer and public relations professional based in Northern Virginia. Contact him at [email protected].
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