Our guest today is Andrea Benedict, Physician Assistant, creator of the YouTube channel, Life as a PA, and founder of MEDTakeovers. This very busy professional earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Delaware in neuroscience, and went straight to the Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania’s Physician Assistant program. She has wide ranging experience as a PA, from family medicine to acute leukemia, and currently works in a Pediatric ICU.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? Your background and where you grew up? [1:49]
I grew up in Pennsylvania. I went to college in Delaware, and then set sights on med school or PA school. I started my professional career bouncing around the country, soaking it all in.
How did you decide to become a physician assistant? [2:31]
It’s an interesting story, and all revolves around being busted for cheating. Initially I was on the med school track, preparing for the MCAT. In my organic chemistry class I and 50 other students had the “great” idea to make changes to our tests before submitting them for a regrade. We were found out, and because of this the committee at my school that wrote letters of recommendation wouldn’t write me a letter. At that point, I had no plan B, so I had to open my eyes to other professions. When I found out about the Physician Assistant profession I realized it was exactly what I wanted to do, and am glad about the outcome.
Think back on when you applied to PA school, what was the most difficult part of the application process for you? [4:31]
The minutiae – like how and where to put volunteer experience, how to classify things. If you put information in the wrong spot maybe you don’t get accepted – it’s stressful. Essay creation and writing is also not my forte.
What did you like about Lockhaven, which you attended to become a PA? [5:29]
I loved that it was close to my hometown. PA school was so overwhelming that having mom two hours away was comforting. In particular, though, Lockhaven’s priority is its students, not the program or money. They’ll bend over backwards to accommodate a personal issue. I feel like education generally is more sterile now, and Lockhaven has a friendly, warm, welcoming faculty with student’s best interests at heart.
What would you have liked to change? [6:51]
I feel like students nowadays have so many amazing things at their fingertips (sim labs, models, ultrasounds) that weren’t there when I was there, and that would have been nice to have access to. In the grand scheme of things, though, there were no negatives that came out of it. I didn’t lack anything, and everything I needed was available to me.
What have you been doing since you became a PA? Can you walk us through it? [8:02]
I graduated PA school in 2008. I moved to Salt Lake City to do a rotation – Lockhaven allows you to go anywhere in the country for a rotation. I took a job in a family practice with focus on integrative medicine and some cosmetic procedures as well. I did that for seven months, but it was too slow-paced for me. I set my sights on higher acuity, and got a job in bone marrow transplant for four years. At that point I felt like picking a place on the map to move to and chose Austin with focused efforts on finding an ICU job, which I have been doing for six years.
I’ve watched a few of your videos. Why do you like being a PA? [10:52]
First and foremost is the flexibility. I don’t like commitment. To have a profession where I am not narrowed into one specialty is so liberating. On top of that, it’s ability to move around, with lots more job opportunities.
And I just really like the PA role. My physician colleagues have a lot on their plates – research to complete, for example. I have a lot more freedom and can choose to take on other commitments because I want to rather than because I have to. My role is just ICU – not administrative, not teaching staff, just being a provider in the unit. Having all of those additional duties that attendings have would make me not like my job as much.
What’s the difference between a PA, physician, and nurse practitioner? [13:47]
Outpatient differences are less than inpatient, but physicians have full autonomy and will trump my decision. With the sickest of sick patients in tenuous situations they take more of a lead role and I provide assistance. It is synergistic, but the higher the acuity the more the attending is steering the ship, which I am fine with because of all the other benefits of the career.
With nurse practitioner colleagues, there really is no difference in terms of how we are practicing. We are doing the same things. In terms of education tracks it is different, however, with PAs and physicians trained under the physician model with nurse practitioners trained under the nursing model (I could devote an entire podcast to those different learning models!). In the end we all have the goal of providing the best patient care possible, just with differing levels of autonomy.
Why did you start “Life as a PA” both the blog and the YT channel? [16:35]
Out of frustration. There was a two-week period where I saw PAs getting slammed in the media and it rubbed me the wrong way. I could complain or be active. I need to advocate. I can’t complain unless I am willing to be part of the solution to educate the general public about what a PA is.
Can you tell us about MEDtakeovers? [17:51]
It came out of idea that when I am searching for a career path the way I learn best is when I have multiple opinions on what the job is like. During my education I would read from multiple sources, so I decided to attempt to apply this idea to healthcare professions. I felt like pre-health students could really benefit from this rather than a curated blog style.
Is it videos? “Day in the Life” type of thing?”
It is healthcare professionals using their own phones to talk about their careers, bringing viewers behind the scenes as much as they feel comfortable and within HIPAA compliance. There is no patient information, but for example, you can get a general idea for a plastic surgeon. “It’s 6:00, I’m heading into work and my first patient is at 8:00. It’s now 8:30, I had my first consult, and have 10 more. Now it’s lunch time and I’m getting tired but today is a short day and I’m leaving at 2:30.” Then these professionals answer questions in the evening. I give them a list of questions I’d like them to touch on. Through Snapchat and Instagram they also can interact and answer follower questions.
When did you start it? How is it going? [21:31]
In total two years, but the first-year mistake was using just Snapchat and Instagram, where videos are only saved for 24 hours, so I lost a lot of content. I am not a web designer but wanted to build a website to host the videos permanently. The site has been active about a year and it’s going great. I have 300+ videos at this point. It has been so educational for me as well – I find myself learning how to better utilize other consulting services, for example, so it’s an educational venture for me as well.
What surprised you about that initiative? [23:11]
How willing people are to participate and how much they want to help pre-health students. Not that I thought people wouldn’t, but just the fact that people are genuinely interested and want to help the new generation. It makes me really happy.
Did you ever think of quitting either PA school or the profession? [24:10]
Bone marrow transplants got to be overwhelming. I’m glad I left when I did, since there is an unbelievable amount of sadness. I could go back to it now that I have been refreshed, but it does take a toll.
I never wanted to quit school, and overwhelmingly love my job (the majority of days!).
Any advice for PA wannabes? [25:53]
I think that the best thing they can do to prepare is get patient care experience as early as possible. What I mean by that is if they have financial means when they are 18 take a three-week NA, CA, or EMT course and have that certification. It makes collection of patient care experience hours so much easier, and it looks great on a PA school application. It is hard for students to easily get accepted without patient care experience (which is hard without a certification) or starting early.
Where do you see your career going in the future? [26:59]
I have so many different ideas.
What do you wish I had asked you? [27:54]
I do think there is a really important tip that could alleviate a lot of PA student angst. They freak out because their PANCE exam is coming up. Call the NCCPA, as they update their pass rates every Wednesday. The numbers are typically very high – usually 90+ percent. That brings people comfort that so many people did it. “I definitely feel I am in the 93%. I’ve got this.”
Where can listeners view your work as opposed to just hearing me talk about it? [29:42]
• Life as a PA
• Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania
• Admissions Consulting Services
• How to Get Accepted to Physician Assistant (PA) Programs
• That PA Girl with Can’t-Miss Advice for Aspiring Physician Assistants