Physician Assistant: Brittany Ruff
1. Why did you choose to become a physician assistant?
I was pre-med when I started at Luther College and had always wanted to be in the medical profession. While at Luther I had the opportunity to job shadow a pathology assistant, which I really enjoyed and started my interest in PA over MD. I ultimately chose to be a PA because of the diversity of the profession. As a PA, I can work in any field with additional on-the-job training. For example, I started at Allen ER after graduation and now am working in family practice.
2. What is your typical work day like?
A typical work day for me consists of evaluating, diagnosing and treating family medicine patients from about 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Some have acute problems while others see me for management of their chronic issues. As part of that, I have to review labs, imaging, consults, etc. and then make the necessary treatment changes for patients.
3. What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
The most rewarding part of my job is helping people get answers regarding their medical conditions and ultimately finding a solution that makes the patient feel better and works for the patient in their everyday life. I love when I get to make someone feel better.
The most challenging part is keeping people well and keeping them happy. Some of my patients have multiple medical problems and it seems like when you fix one, another breaks, and that is frustrating for me and for my patient.
4. What is the biggest myth or misconception about your career or field?
That I am in training to be a physician. I take every opportunity I have to educate my patients on what I do and how that is different from an ARNP, DO and MD and what that means for them when they come to see me. I think mid-level providers in general face this challenge and together as a whole have to educate patients as much as we can.
5. What steps did you take in high school and college to help prepare you for your career?
In high school and college, I took as many science classes as I could fit in. I was a biology major with a chemistry minor at Luther. I think that medical terminology is the single most important class aspiring medical professionals can take and should take it as early as possible. The other side of being a PA, or any health care professional for that matter, is your personality and your ability to relate to others, so get involved in a variety of activities and try to improve your leadership skills, as these will never fail you.
6. What did you find difficult during your career preparation? How did you overcome these obstacles?
Every career in medicine will have different requirements at the graduate level, so when you decide a career path do your research early so that you do not end up short at the end. For me, I chose PA school over medical school my junior year at Luther College and could not complete all the different requirements in time and, as a result, had to take a year of general education classes at Kirkwood and also had to train and work as a CNA to fulfill my “patient care” hour requirement for PA school. While an additional year is not much in the scheme of things it would have been nice to start PA school earlier, especially because I had student loans to worry about. My best advice is complete your research about your profession early, ask questions and get your requirements done as soon as possible. Also, use your resources, whether it is professors, the education department, etc. Whatever is available, use it. You won’t regret it.
7. What do you see as the strengths and skills needed to succeed in your career?
I think strengths and skills kind of go hand-in-hand. Anyone who is well-organized, self-motivating, has good leadership skills, has a willingness to learn and is confident will definitely succeed in any career in medicine.
8. What advice would you offer to students interested in pursuing a career as a physician assistant?
PA school is difficult because of the accelerated nature of the program, so being mentally prepared is more than half of the battle. Like I mentioned before, do your research and know what to expect and you will succeed. To prepare to work as a PA, again use your resources. There is a lot to learn regarding negotiating contracts, where to work, etc. ASK QUESTIONS!!! There is no silly question, so ask your professors, preceptors, alumni, whoever you need to get your questions answered. Lastly, job shadow a PA to get an idea of what the field is like. That is the best way to know what career is best suited for you!