Degree(s): Bachelor of Science in Psychology, minor in Biology, Master’s degree in Neuroscience and Behavior, Master of Physician Assistant Studies
Current Position Title and Affiliation: Physician Assistant in the Neurosurgery Department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Summary of Position:
As an inpatient Physician Assistant I’m part of a team of 5 other PA’s who take care of our pre-and post-operative neurosurgery patients. Our patients can range anywhere from elective straight forward spine procedures, to really unfortunate cases of glioblastoma and the patient needs a craniotomy to help them achieve a better quality of life. The days can be a little unpredictable, but we ensure each patient is ready for the operating room, care for them afterwards, and manage any hiccup along the way. I also perform any necessary procedures on the inpatient floor such as removing staples/sutures, pulling spinal or brain drains, lumbar punctures, and sometimes arterial lines if the ICU team needs assistance. Even though we are a neurosurgery team, I manage a lot of general medicine since our patients can have a myriad of comorbidities. Working alongside the residents and attendings, we manage some emotionally heavy cases, but also have the pleasure of taking care of some really wonderful patients. It’s only been 3 months since I started, but I am thrilled to be a part of the team, learning every day!
I think about this a lot actually, and I have a feeling I will want to bounce around to different surgery sub-specialties eventually. One of the perks of being a PA is that you are trained from a general medicine standpoint and can change your career trajectory at any time. I will be at my current position for at least a few years, but eventually my fiancé and I want to move to the New Hampshire/Vermont/Maine area. Ideally, I would love a job where some of my responsibilities include assisting in the operating room, so a smaller non-teaching hospital up north might be my next move.
What do you love most about this career path?
I honestly never thought I would be where I am today back when I was at UMass. I only knew of one person who was planning on going to PA school, and I really had no idea what it entailed. My favorite thing about my career path is no matter what specialty I choose, I am affecting people’s lives in a positive way every time I walk into work. Especially in my current role, some of these neurosurgery patients may only have a year left to live, and I pride myself in giving them the best care and ensuring they get home to their family safely. I love having the opportunity of being that clinician who makes a patient’s stressful hospital stay a positive experience.
How did UMass and/or Psychological and Brain Sciences help prepare you?
I always joke that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of monkeys. It’s partially true, given that I had to train some for my master’s thesis, but I honestly have many strong female professors/mentors to thank for my current path. Melinda Novak, Linda Isbell, Christina Metevier, and Amanda Hamel all took me under their wing and helped me along my path. Having the opportunity to be a research & teaching assistant really opened my eyes to the ability of making an impact on the scientific community through thoughtfully designed research protocols. I think I was a part of three different labs at one point during my junior-senior year, and I remember feeling so grateful that I could absorb their methods and different ways of thinking. I would not have been hired for my first job as a clinical research coordinator at Mass General without the help of UMass’s Psych department, and I will be forever grateful.
Tips for Current Undergrads:
Get involved! Listen to your genuine curiosity and follow that. Step outside of your comfort zone and go chat with the professor that you admire. Reach out to graduate students in the department and ask them if they need any help with their projects. I would not be where I am today if I did not have the courage to go talk with one of my favorite social psychology professors and her graduate TA one day after class. It’s okay to be afraid, stressed, to not know what you want to do. Just keep your head up, and heart open to all possibilities.