I remember watching her take out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and homemade brownies, all perfectly wrapped in tinfoil, as we stood trying to find enough space to move in the “break room” of our makeshift Fast Track. It was a portable unit that was somehow connected to the main ER at our first job in Jamaica, Queens. Our favorite nurse hid suture supplies and Dermabond in the ceiling so we would always have what we needed. No joke.
Anyways - I had never thought to wrap my food for work in tinfoil, and I recall thinking at the time “wow she made brownies and PB&J before work – impressive.” I was only 25 at the time . . . and Jamie 23 . . . different priorities back then (insert chuckle).
First impressions aside, I didn’t know what to think of her much beyond that. We didn’t go to PA school together. We graduated at the same time. Both ended up working at one of the most notoriously challenging first jobs a new grad could hope for. She always wanted to trade me GYN charts for Ortho charts, and I was fine with that. Other than that she was kind of serious, fast as all getup, and had an aura of intelligence and introversion that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with.
Fast forward to the evening of 9/11/01. I showed up for the night shift and realize she had been there all day, kept her commitment even though she was unable to reach her fiancé, a rookie with the FDNY. I remember hearing her give a piece of her mind (and rightfully so) to a patient who showed up to the ER with essentially a cold. Told him to get the hell out of there. That memory is etched in my mind like it is now, and I’m still crippled with the inability to know what to do or what to say to her.
She hadn’t heard from him now two weeks post 9/11 when she was supposed to start a new job at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. Ridden with fear, anger, crippling sadness, and a glimmer of hope that they may still find him alive - my friend, my colleague - mustered up the strength to show up for her first day. And all the shifts she was assigned after that.
Amidst life-changing personal grief she went on to lead, to teach and to do great things over the next few years there. She was even the first PA in the state of NY to do a lobectomy by robot, and to teach residents how to do it. That was the first time I remember thinking how her chosen career as a surgical PA is giving back to her in the most unexpected way. Giving her the boost of confidence, strength, and unlimited aptitude that served as a diversion during some truly challenging days.
She continued to thrive as a surgical PA and went on to hold two other positions in Cardiothoracic Surgery at Winthrop University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Hospital before being recruited by Dr. S. Jacob Scheinerman, Chairman of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital, where she is today.
Jamie mentioned to me a few weeks ago that she was nominated for the PA of the Year award at Lenox Hill Hospital. Her supervising PA said she better show up for the award ceremony, as she was one of the candidates. He mentioned she didn’t win, but lost in a 3x repeat vote by half a point. Half a point? I kept wondering who only gets to vote with half a point? Weird. Bummer.
And then yesterday (much to my surprise) she sent me this picture – there she is, award in hand, beaming from ear to ear amidst her PA and surgical colleagues. Smack in the middle of PA Week.
The nomination speech was written by Lenox Hill Supervising Physician Assistant Jason Lightbody, PA-C, MMS.
"Jamie Huggler has been a PA with us for just over a year, but has been in CT Surgery and Critical care for over 17 years. From day one she has come to work each and every day with a smile on her face. She has been the go-to person for ICU training exclusively since she has started here, and although she has had several health and personal life issues at home, has stepped up for her team and agreed to work every other weekend in our time of need.
Routinely I am receiving compliments about Jamie from physicians, PAs, nurses, patients and families. The most recent e-mail I received was from a critical care attending regarding her professionalism, which said “Jamie displays a boundless amount of energy, enthusiasm and amazing work ethic and an absolutely outstanding level of team play which completely exemplifies our vision of unparalleled delivery of care through teamwork, collaboration, innovation and persistence for excellence.”
Her bright personality is infectious and when you are coming out of the OR, cranky, she is the first one to sit you down, offer to do your work for you, and give you chocolate. She provides superior patient care and is a role model for our new PAs. She has given us lectures on ICU management including mechanical ventilation management, inotrope/pressor guidelines, and how to deal with post-op low cardiac output syndrome in our bi-weekly educational sessions. She has helped create easier work-flow for our staff with the use of acronyms, as well as pre-formatted procedural notes. It is without question that our patients would not receive the same level of high quality care they do while on our service without Jamie working with us. "
Yeah, cheering people up with chocolate and offering to do their work. That’s Jamie.
Honestly I have never heard of an institution so phenomenally celebrating PA contribution, and I couldn’t be more pleased that it’s Jamie. For the last month, proceeding and even following PA week, she received endless notes and emails of congratulations from the surgical team and chiefs of staff. Let Lenox Hill serve as an example for PA recognition in all employment settings.
If anyone who knows Jamie is reading this story, they know she is extremely humble. She would only want us to focus on the fact that she is one of more than 90,000 PAs who all have their own story, their own determination and relentless commitment to their job and to their patients.
But standing from afar, watching the showering of praise of her contributions (and knowing her slight discomfort with it all), I’m wishing I could tell them just one more amazing thing that I learned from her. The profession gives back to those who give it their all. It keeps you strong, confident, and forces your chin up. I think the benefits of being a PA go way beyond the obvious we all speak of, and I am grateful for that realization and the opportunity to share my dear friends story.
So that is the silver lining. That is the tinfoil in this tale. So proud of you, Jamie, and so grateful for your inspiration to us all.
Lara Francisco, PA-C
Lara Francisco, PA-C, worked in high-volume inner-city trauma centers for 10 years before founding Medelita in 2008 and shaking up the medical apparel industry with a passion for design and function. She balances life’s adventures as a mother of three (including twins), volunteerism, leadership and a relentless zeal for technical uniform innovation.