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Pathway to PA: An Interview with Kimberly A. Mackey, MPAS, PA-C

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Our Pathway to PA blog series will explore the varying career paths that brought Physician Assistants to their chosen profession.  We will be featuring Physician Assistants in all phases of their careers and learning about their educational pathway, the challenges and successes they've faced, and any advice they may have for someone contemplating a career as a PA. On this inaugural post in the series we interview Kimberly Mackey, MPAS, PA-C , who also guest blogged for us with her post on High Demand Practice Areas for PAs. Kimberly MackeyKimberly Mackey, MPAS, PA-Cis a Physician Assistant at UT Physicians- Orthopaedics practicing in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston and blogger for the American Academy of Physician Assistants PAs Connect. Kimberly began her studies at the University of Florida in Gainesville and majored in biology. She worked in clinical research at the Texas Medical Center before becoming a Physician Assistant. She attended the Physician Assistant Studies Program at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Kimberly graduated as an Interprofessional Scholar and a member of the Alpha Eta Society.

Why did you choose to become a Physician Assistant?

I chose the Physician Assistant profession because it combined everything I love: science, research, treating patients, assisting in the operating room, and performing procedures in the office.  In addition, the Physician Assistant master’s degree had a spectacular return on investment and very positive job outlook for the future.

How long have you been a PA?

I graduated from the Physician Assistant Studies Program at the University of Texas Medical Branch in December 2012; I have been a PA practicing in orthopedic surgery for about one year.

Did you consider becoming an MD or another career in medicine?

Yes. I considered becoming a Physician as our prerequisites are very similar in college. I also considered obtaining a Ph.D so I could become a scientist and work on clinical trials evaluating new drugs.

What are your biggest professional challenges?

I am in the early stages of my career having been in practice for one year. My biggest professional challenge was transitioning from a PA student to a practitioner. In school there is one answer, a correct answer when treating a disease. In practice, we treat people. These people have lives, jobs, and complicated medical histories. Often there is more than one correct answer. There can be different management options depending on how the patient wants to proceed. My first hurdle was transitioning from solely diagnosing and treating diseases during school to taking care of people.

If you could change any decisions you made along the way what would they be?

I would not change any decisions that I made along the way; each struggle has defined me as person. I could have made smarter decisions which would have made my life easier. For example, my life would have been easier in PA school if I took medical terminology as a course before attending. Medical terminology is like learning another language; having a strong background in this allows you to focus on the more important things like clinical medicine and the scientific concepts behind them.

What advice would you give a Pre Med student or anyone trying to choose between being a PA and another medical profession?

My advice is to jump in and get your feet wet. Shadow, speak to different medical professionals, and become involved in some aspect of healthcare. You can always start by volunteering at a hospital. Trial and error is the only way you truly find out what the right profession is for you. Also, look at the financials. What is the cost of school tuition or the average salary of each profession? There are a lot of great pathways to treating patients- physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner

What advice would you give a student considering Med School?

Our generation of medicine will be different from our parents' generation. There are three main pathways to becoming a medical provider: Physician, Nurse Practitioner, and Physician Assistant. It is important to sit down and try to figure out a couple of things. How much of your life do you want to dedicate to studying or working once you finish training? What do you want out of a career in medicine long-term? And how much of your personal life are you willing to sacrifice in order to pursue it? If you are a PA and would like to share your story and advice on this series, please email us here.