It’s Physician Assistant Week, a time set aside to recognize the invaluable contributions that PAs (physician associates/physician assistants) make to healthcare.
PAs are a crucial thread in the fabric of our nation’s public health, providing the kind of essential preventative care that improves patient health outcomes and strengthens communities. Especially in this time of healthcare worker shortages, PAs fill the gap, ensuring that every patient is able to access quality medical care.
Jody Sherman is a great example. As a locums emergency medicine PA, she is there for people in some of the scariest, most vulnerable moments of their lives. We sat down with Jody to talk about her experience in the ER, and what she loves most about being a PA.
Here’s what she had to say about her experience as a locum tenens physician assistant:
Tell us a little bit about how you got into medicine. How did you decide to become a PA?
I always had an interest in medicine. No one else in my family was in medicine, but I was drawn to it from a very young age. I used to volunteer at a nursing home, reading the newspaper to people and playing the piano for them. That’s when I solidified the idea that I wanted to help people and take care of people.
I was pre-med in college, but the summer before my senior year, I had an internship where I worked with a PA. I didn’t even know about the PA profession at that time, but as I learned more about it, it seemed like more of a flexible career to me in regard to what practice would be like. PAs are trained in all specialties, and their focus is on patient care. As a PA, you also don’t have to be involved in the business aspect of medicine; you can just go to work, take care of patients, and go home.
I made the decision to become a PA instead of an MD, and I never looked back.
What led you to work in emergency medicine?
When I was in PA school, I either wanted to work in primary care or pediatrics. I thought emergency medicine was the last specialty I would ever want to do.
My second rotation in PA school was supposed to be family practice, but the physician had an injury and wasn’t able to work with me anymore. So they placed me at an ER that had never before had a PA student rotate with them.
I thought it sounded awful. But I fell in love with it. I knew it was what I was meant to do. After that, I switched around a couple of my rotations to continue in emergency medicine. I worked at an ER in the Appalachian mountains, doing rural medicine. The ER physician actually did house calls, so it was a whole different experience. I loved it.
I really like being able to help people in their most vulnerable time. To be able to use testing and resources in an emergency setting and come up with care plans in a much quicker time period––it aligns so well with my personality and the way my brain works.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a very steady and secure work life, and to hold a lot of leadership roles. And it’s because I absolutely love what I do.
How did you decide to become a locum tenens physician assistant?
When I left my most recent position, I had been recruited to start working at the VA in the ER. But while I was exploring that opportunity, I found out that the hiring was going to be delayed because they didn’t have the funding. I was trying to figure out what to do, and I got a text message out of the blue from Megan Quinn with Hayes Locums, asking if I was interested in doing a local locum tenens physician assistant job.
I had never heard of locums or worked with any locums. But I gave her a call, and fortunately there was a job available about an hour and a half away from me. Learning more about what locums offered, it seemed like something that would work for me.
Having Megan’s support during that transition was huge. I had a difficult experience in my most recent position, and I was able to be open and honest with her about that throughout the entire process. I felt very supported. We had a lot of long phone conversations. It was life-giving to have Hayes be there at that time. I really felt like they cared about where I was at and what I was looking for.
One of the locums doctors I met was telling me how much paperwork there would be, but I didn’t have any of that experience with Hayes Locums. It was very professional and supportive, and everything went very quickly. I had my interview with the site and they liked me and I liked them, and the ball started rolling. Within a couple of months, I had started working.
I’m learning so much at the ER I’m working with. The physicians there are family practice doctors who work emergency medicine. It changes the practice; it allows you to tailor a workup to what each individual patient needs instead of going through big workups that maybe every single patient doesn’t need. For the first time in a long time, I’m able to practice medicine the way I want.
I have not worked 12 hour shifts in almost twenty years, and my goal was never to work 12 hour shifts again. My current locums assignment involves 12 hours shifts, and it’s an hour and a half drive, so it’s 15 hours total. But I don’t have work stress. I absolutely love being able to go to work and do my job.
I’m just so grateful. I think about getting that text message; if Megan hadn’t reached out––and in a way that felt personal and made me want to reach out––I wouldn’t have had this experience.
What is it like practicing as a locum tenens physician assistant as opposed to a full-time hospital employee?
The flexibility is great. I literally get to pick the days I want to work. It almost felt surreal. The main PA I work with at my locums assignment said: you are here to help us, so we want to do what works for you. I’ve been there now for three and a half months, and it’s been consistent. They’re so grateful for somebody to be there to help, that they literally allow me to make a schedule that works for me.
I was a little nervous about what it would be like in an ER as an outsider. But it’s been wonderful. I love the site, I love my coworkers, and I feel very supported there. We all work together, and I can just see patients and work with patients. Sometimes it can be hard to integrate with nursing staff as a mid-level, but the nurses have been supportive and wonderful. And of course the pay is great, so that’s another benefit.
Locums has allowed me to have the opportunity to experience this amazing work site. It’s not something I would have done without locums, and I’m so grateful because I absolutely love working there.
Emergency medicine can be an intense specialty. How do you prepare yourself to adapt quickly to a new ER?
I like new experiences, so the idea of meeting new people and working with new people was exciting. But I also just focused on knowing that my job is my job, regardless of the ER. I knew there would be a learning curve regarding the processes in the ER. But even though every ER is different, the actual work––the patient care and the standard of care they should receive––is the same.
When I start in a new ER, I just focus on my job being to provide the appropriate standard of care, and learn the department along the way. The only way of learning a new department is just going through patients, learning what they need, and understanding what is and isn’t available.
It’s Physician Assistant Week. What are some things you wish more people understood about PAs?
As a PA, I really like the flexibility that being a PA provides. It’s a great career. I’m really happy in it, and I have a lot of fulfillment in what I do and in being able to help people.
Even though I’ve done ER medicine this long, I know that if I wanted to change into another specialty I could. Even NPs go to school with a focus, whether it’s primary care or acute care or pediatrics. But once you’re experienced as a PA, especially if you have the broad experience of ER, a physician or group would be happy to train you in a different specialty. It’s one of my favorite things about being a PA.
What advice do you have for other PAs considering locums?
Try it! The locums gig is very flexible and it allows you to experience different things. I didn’t know all of what locums had to offer before this experience. But now, instead of running out searching for a full-time job, I’m just enjoying this locums experience.
It’s also great for people who are working full-time. I work with another mid-level provider who has a full time job at home, but she loves locums and picking up extra shifts and making some extra money.
As a locum tenens physician assistant, you’re also able to have an impact on facilities that need your expertise. I’m able to help other providers by filling a need, and bringing my experience to help them. I’ve worked in a lot of ERs, and I’ve worked in a lot of difficult situations. But what I experienced instead is that people are so grateful to have help.
That’s what I would tell people: hospitals are looking for locums providers because they need help, and I have only ever felt gratitude from them.
*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.