National Allied Health Professions week is celebrated Nov. 2 – 6, 2020. Allied health professionals are an important part of the healthcare team at Baylor and its affiliates. Learn more about physician assistants in this Q&A with Susan Kirk, PA-C, assistant professor of pediatrics – hematology at Baylor and Texas Children’s Hospital. Kirk is the 2020 recipient of the Carl E. Fasser Visionary Leadership Award. Named for the former longtime director of Baylor’s Physician Assistant Program, the award honors excellence by physician assistants in education, research, clinical practice and service.
What is your educational background and your path that led to your career as a PA?
If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered a doctor. I ended up majoring in biological engineering at Mississippi State University, which had a very rigorous course load. When it came time to take the medical school entrance exam (MCAT), I didn’t feel that I had the time to dedicate to preparing for this. Instead, after graduation, I took some time to think about my career path. A friend of mine was applying to PA school around that time, and although I had never heard of a PA before, it sounded exactly like what I wanted to do. I had a few prerequisites to take, then applied to PA school and matriculated to the University of Kentucky PA Program.
Describe your responsibilities in your role at Baylor College of Medicine.
I currently practice at Texas Children’s in pediatric non-malignant hematology. The majority of my time is spent in the clinic taking care of patients with hematologic disorders. Outside of clinic, I have many other opportunities to serve the department and College. I am the clerkship director for PA students and fellows who opt to rotate in pediatric hematology/oncology, and I lecture to various graduate and nursing programs. I have also had the support of colleagues in conducting clinical research and collaborating with other researchers. Most recently, I have taken on a leadership role as a co-director of the Advanced Practice Providers in the Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers.
What is the best thing about your career? What is the most challenging aspect?
By far, the best thing about my career is being able to take care of pediatric patients. When I was in school, most of my rotations were in adult medicine. However, one day a patient had her grandson with her, and I was so excited to see a kid! That was the moment I knew I would end up practicing in pediatrics.
There are a lot of misconceptions about PAs, which makes certain parts of the job challenging. Often, people, even patients and families, are not familiar with PAs. This means a bit of extra education.
What would you tell others who are considering this career?
I have always loved the choice I made to become a PA; I’m usually very good at selling it as a career! I hope everyone who is interested in a career in medicine consider the choice of a PA. This career usually offers a good work-life balance and a wide variety of primary/specialty options. It is difficult to get into PA school, so whether it is a first or second career choice, you will need a strong academic record and experience in the healthcare field.
What are the benefits and opportunities of working in an academic health center?
Academic medicine has many unique benefits for a PA. There is usually an option to become subspecialized, to conduct or support clinical research, and frequent opportunities for continuing education. At Baylor, there is the added benefit of having a PA program within the college, allowing for collaboration and continued involvement in the education of future PAs.
What is the environment like at Baylor / Texas Children’s?
At Baylor and Texas Children’s, the environment is incredibly supportive in fostering a team-based approach to patient care. As a PA, it is very important to have the support and confidence of all members of the healthcare team. The institutions are supportive of the career and advancement of Advanced Practice Providers, which makes them a wonderful place to work!
How has the pandemic impacted your role and the healthcare you provide?
The pandemic has forced everyone to change their habits, and the delivery of healthcare has had to change with it. Previously, I saw all of my patients in person in clinic but now see up to 25% virtually. This has had some unexpected benefits, particularly for families who have barriers to getting to their clinic visits. And now that virtual visits are an option, I have the added task of deciding who is a good candidate for a virtual visit and who is better served coming into clinic.
See the images below for more information about educational programs in Baylor’s School of Health Professions.