In honor of PA Week, which starts today October 6th and ends October 10th, Medelita's own H.I.P. (Honoring Inspiring Professionals) Ambassador Justine Roberts, PA-C opens up about her experiences as a PA, what drove her towards this career, and discusses what makes her challenging role so rewarding at the end of the day.
Justine is a committed, humble clinician who works to impact the lives of her patients beyond just their incisions and sutures. She spends much of her time talking with her patients about changes they can make to better their lives. Justine has found that by connecting with her patients through common interests, whether it be distance running, gardening, chicken raising, snowmobiling, or any of a million other things in common, she is able to build solid, lasting clinician-patient relationships.
"I grew up in a small town, surrounded by a number of other small towns, in west central Pennsylvania. People work hard here, my parents included. Their work ethic was something I always hoped to emulate. I always admired my dad for working as a mental health administrator during day and pumping gas at his gas station at night. My mom worked hard too. She spent many years as a social worker, and now works as an elementary school teacher. Her patience and hopelessly positive attitude is something I’ve always admired. Just five miles down the road from where I grew up is a very prestigious PA program—the quality of education has always blown people away. It was one of those things— if you wanted to practice medicine, you went to Saint Francis University. I was beyond thrilled to be accepted and have the chance to continue growing right there in my hometown. I gained an appreciation of what local health care had to offer. I’ve had a lot of huge milestones at Saint Francis—from taking my first steps (yes, literally—at my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary party), to receiving an incredible education and two diplomas, (my third will come in the spring), and finally, marrying the most wonderful man in the whole wide world (definitely my favorite). It’s all more than I ever could’ve hoped for. There’s so much that goes into all of it—hard work, luck, being in the right place at the right time… but my upbringing had everything to do with where I am now.
I love being a PA for a million different reasons. I love that we have to recertify (remind me I said that in 9 years). Seriously! We are so fortunate to be responsible for knowing a lot about everything. It’s nice to focus in one area of study but always have those little nuances in the back of our minds. We get to make little “saves” here and there that can be so impactful in the lives of our patients. Balance is huge—I’m still trying to figure that one out. Hobbies make for a nice outlet. I like doing lots of things, but the one hobby I enjoy the most is running. Over the last 6+ years I’ve been in practice, for the most part, I run for myself. Taking a couple minutes to a couple hours every night to decompress is so important. Staying active is a way to be a good example for your patients: you are present, clear headed, and you understand what it takes to commit to your health. It’s an authentic way of promoting wellness.
If you’re lucky, you get to know patients and their families. I have the privilege of seeing husbands and wives, parents and children, widows and widowers, and some people who are just plain alone. Most of my days revolve around scalpels and sutures, and all that goes into taking skin cancer away; but that’s not the best part. Getting to appreciate life, death, growth, change, and how it all comes together to essentially create our story—what defines us—that’s a gift. Life is hard, but it’s a different kind of hard for everybody. I’ve lost a few patients this year—some were lost in accidents, a few died of cancer, and some of old age. The hardest was a 52 year old patient who I performed a melanoma resection on less than 2 years ago. She had the worst case of denial I have ever seen. The depths of the tissue were gray; the surface— ulcerated and ink black. It was the type of lesion you see, and as a clinician, the pit of your stomach aches. As a daughter of a woman her age, my heart ached. It turns out she was in the advanced stages of melanoma, which eventually spread to her brain and took her less than a year after diagnosis. The day we met, her biggest concern was that she wanted to use her “sparkly” body wash on her incision site. I was nauseous over what I feared: that her pathology would return, and there she was, frustrated over a two week hiatus from her sparkly purple soap. She didn’t want a scar along her bra line—that’s why she had waited three years from when it started bleeding and ulcerating to schedule an appointment.
It’s amazing the emotions you experience when you become invested in peoples' lives in such a meaningful way. Perhaps that’s one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a PA. You worry, and you hurt, and you celebrate, and you pray—sometimes all at once. I hope if you’re an aspiring clinician, or even a seasoned one, that you view your experience as a blessing. You have an opportunity to touch lives and create opportunities for hope, health and healing. It’s so easy to get mad, and upset, and frustrated over any number of things. Over the course of a day, there are a million opportunities for things to go wrong… and just as many for things to go right. Attitude is everything. We are under so much pressure to maintain volumes, documentation, and keep up with a multitude of other daily responsibilities. We need to remember the basics. Beyond the H&P and physical exam, there’s a human, and inside that human is a soul. Please, take the extra time to talk to people. I’ve found that some of the most interesting people have no one to tell their story to, and that’s a shame. Even more ironically, I’ve found that sometimes just knowing that someone cares is more effective medicine for the patient than any prescription any of us could ever write."
Justine Roberts, PA-C