October 5, 2021

Becoming The Chair – One Physician Assistant’s Journey

Becoming The Chair - One Physician Assistant's Journey 5Whether you’re considering a Physician Assistant (PA) profession, early in your PA career, or established and looking to grow, our conversation with April Burke will inspire, motivate, and, help guide your journey. Celebrating #PAweek, we sat down and talked with April, Director of Advanced Practice Providers at Sound Physicians.  In any vocation, looking back on one’s career often leads to questions like, “What would I do differently?” or “How would I have managed my roles if I knew what I know now?” Our conversation with April may help you get to where you want to go quicker.

Sound Physicians (SP): How did becoming a PA start for you? 

April Burke: While attending college, I worked as a technician in a physical therapy office as I was on a path to become a physical therapist. One day, a patient of ours, an orthopedic physician assistant, discussed his career path with me. He also invited me to shadow him for a couple of days, and after that experience, I decided that that was what I wanted to do. After graduating with my Bachelors of Science in Emergency Medical Services, I attended graduate school, a 26 month of physician assistant program, and the rest is history.

SP: Can you tell us about your first role?

April: I was a hospitalist PA at a small community hospital in Maryland. The site had only one other full-time advanced practice provider who happened to be a great mentor. I trained with her for about two and a half months until I started working closely with the physicians. I was fortunate to work with a collaborative team. If they had an interesting case, I would hang out and see what they could teach once I finished seeing my patients for the day. Being proactive in my education was a great way to build my knowledge base. Self-motivation and engagement in the process are definitely needed to be successful.

SP:  How did your career progress?

April: I was looking for a position closer to home after relocating with my family.Becoming The Chair - One Physician Assistant's Journey 2 That happened the same time that Sound Physicians was hiring an advanced practice provider (APP) for the first time at Frederick Health Hospital (FHH). I was impressed by the team and how Sound supports its providers, so I accepted the role. Looking back, it was the best move for me as Sound has provided me with more opportunities than I thought possible. At the time, I had another great mentor who encouraged me to serve on several APP committees, which prepared me for the leadership role I’m in today.

SP:  From the start of your second role to a leadership position is a lot to unpack! Can you share some advice?

April: Learn from others and invest in your education to establish a robust and broad baseline knowledge!  Communication and knowing your limits are essential; reach out for help and discuss things with your team when needed.  Building relationships, even on personal levels, help develop mutual trust.  When working clinical I often sit and have lunch with our whole team; we unplug from the stress of work for a short time and have fun talking about our lives outside of work. Being humble and receptive to feedback are key traits to possess; we are part of a team to teach and support each other. Lastly, honesty and integrity are huge.  Acknowledging when you make a mistake or need more guidance is always what is best for you, your team, and, most importantly, your patients.

SP:  Your accomplishments have led to the unique privilege of starting an advanced practice provider department and becoming the APP Chair at Fredrick Health Hospital.  How did this come to be?

Becoming The Chair - One Physician Assistant's Journey 1April: As part Sound Physicians’ Emerging Leaders program, the participants complete a project of their choice at their site. I began with the idea of creating a group to bring together the APPs from all of the groups within the hospital.  My Medical Director and the hospital administration took to the idea, so we started a multidisciplinary APP working group.

One of the first things that came out of our meetings was that the APPs wanted to be more involved in the hospital. Their collective goal was to become medical staff members and have voting rights. I took that feedback back to the hospital administration at the time, and they were supportive. This led to us working with the administration to facilitate a change to our bylaws, resulting in us creating an APP department. Elections were held for the chair and vice-chair, I was honored to be elected the Department Chair. As department chair, I became the first APP representative on the Medical Executive Committee at FHH.

SP: Hearing your amazing journey, I can’t help but feel like mentorship, learning, and being proactive are some main traits to PA success.

April: I appreciated the generosity and caring my mentors showed me over the years, and I try to pay that forward as often as possible.  In fact, our APP site group created a new mentor program, and now, new hires get paired with a more senior APP in the hospital for the first couple of months. I also helped develop a guide for training new APPs across the hospital. All these efforts have empowered leadership opportunities for other APPs in the hospital, and we now have an APP representative on all the major committees in the hospital.

Sound Physicians: April, thanks so much for your time today.  For our readers, we’ll recap your top six tips for managing a successful physician assistant career!

  • Seek out a mentor(s)!
  • Establish a broad and robust knowledge base
  • Reach out for help and know when to discuss things with your teams.
  • Take time to get to know your team to help build trust.
  • Be receptive to feedback and accountable for your actions
  • Be proactive in seeking a new opportunity and learning!

We’d love to hear your physician assistant tips in the comment section below!  And Happy PA Week to all!