December 6, 2023
From immigrant to social media influencer: how one PA inspires thousands
October 4, 2023
By Dorsey Griffith
Some people know from an early age what career path they’re bound to travel. Kheira Bettir, PA-C, a.k.a. “The Classy PA,” is one of them.
Although Bettir took an unconventional turn in her career as a social media star, she is a primary care provider first and foremost, dedicated to the underserved patients who rely on her for the management of hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic and acute illnesses.
Born in Algeria, Bettir’s United States immigration story is like many: Her parents brought her to the United States when she was four years old, looking for a better life.
“My parents always tell me they came here so that I could pursue higher education, It’s the typical American dream story,” Bettir said.
The family had landed in New York to be close to relatives but soon moved to Southern California for a more pleasing climate. But like many young immigrants, the family was poor, and Bettir struggled to fit in.
“I didn’t know a single word of English besides ‘Hi’ and “Oh, my God,’” she said. She was enrolled in an English as a Second Language (ESL) program, and her mother took an English language class at her elementary school, as well as volunteered in her daughter’s classroom. The two sometimes conversed in their native language, Arabic.
“Kids would come up to me and tell me, ‘Your language is so weird’, and they made fun of it, mimicking us. I would not know how to respond. I remember going home and telling my mom, ‘I am going to speak English so well so no one will know English was not my first language.’”
She kept her promise. Bettir busied herself at the library, attending every workshop offered and taking out as many books as she could carry home. She became so devoted to reading that the only effective disciplinary tool her parents had was to take them away, she recalled. By the third grade, she had completed her ESL and was fully immersed in regular classes.
Family health crises and a calling
For as long as Bettir can remember her parents have struggled with health problems. Her dad was diagnosed with advanced lymphoma when she was a child. Over the years, he also dealt with heart problems and other illnesses. When Bettir’s mom was in her early 30s she had a heart attack.
“I was six or seven years old, and I had to make the phone call to 911,” she said. “My mom was our rock. She held the family together.”
The family’s frequent trips to hospitals gave Bettir an early idea of what it would be like to work in a healthcare environment. While her parents always hoped she would become a physician or a lawyer, Bettir’s affinity for the PA profession was sparked early, when she witnessed the role that a PA had played in her father’s cancer care.
“She stood out because whenever she would come to see my dad, she didn’t just ask him how he was doing physically, but also asked about his mental health. Not only that, she would check in on my mom all the time, asking, ‘How are you doing?’ My mom was my dad’s support system.” Today, her parents still have chronic health conditions but are faring well, and Bettir lives close enough to them in Los Angeles to see them frequently. For years, the whole family saw the same PA for their healthcare.
In college at UC Irvine, Bettir majored in Public Health Sciences and shadowed PAs in various fields including OB-GYN and family medicine. With the help of a mentor, she applied to PA school and was admitted to the Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies program at Western University of Health Sciences.
An unexpected social media star
Recalling the relative lack of guidance for aspiring PAs, Bettir started an Instagram account in October 2020 (@theclassyPA) hoping to “bridge the gap for people who look like me and who I can mentor.”
Her connections led to her assisting PA applicants with their personal statements, understanding school requirements and how to land interviews. She offered videos on what a PA does and then gradually began adding personal stories. She did posts and short videos about weekend getaways with her husband or girlfriends, touted seasonal recipes, and modeled elegant gowns with matching hijabs.
One morning, after posting a video reel of herself in a traditional Bangladeshi dress, she discovered the post had gone viral, and her numbers surged. Now with more than 84,000 followers, she has attracted sponsors who pay her to pitch beauty products, medical scrubs, and other lifestyle-enhancement items.
“I don’t want ‘PA’ to be my sole identity or my work to be my whole life,” she explained. “I like fashion, wellness, and lifestyle. If you follow me, I don’t want my followers to think that my life is all PA. That’s unrealistic.”
Besides, she said, once inside her clinic doors she is 100% focused on her patients, coming in early to call them to review lab results prior to their visit, ensuring that they have access to the medicines they need, and gently encouraging lifestyle changes that conform to their cultural preferences and budgets.
Through it all, Bettir never forgets her start in life or the sacrifices of her parents, even when professional challenges arise.
“When I first put on my white coat, you could see the pride in their faces,” she said. “I never want to disappoint my parents who worked so hard to come here. And I don’t want to disappoint myself because I know what I’m capable of.”
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