"To fight passionately for what we believe but remain open to learning and growing. To be committed to helping people succceed, deepen, and behave more effectively in the world. This is The PA Life! " - Stephen Pasquini PA-C
Those of us who choose to study medicine are privileged folk.
We are privileged because we can study hard and apply ourselves to a chosen field, often to serve others.
We have an inherent duty to act responsibly in supporting our patient's medical needs in their particular aspect of care.
Even as a child, I was sensitive to the idea of human suffering. Though I grew up with access to the best healthcare, my parents, primary school educators who got their start working in the inner city, made sure I was aware of the discrepancies that existed in the world around me.
I always knew I wanted to help people by working in the medical field.
Though I’ve always wanted to practice medicine, it wasn’t until my junior year at the University of Washington that I decided to become a physician assistant (PA).
The prohibitive cost of health care and lack of insurance limit access to care for many Americans.
I wanted to become part of the solution to this problem. It’s why I went into medicine and the reason I love going to work every day.
The makings of a PA
I grew up in California’s Central Valley in the town of Stockton - voted consistently as the most dangerous city in California and one of the most dangerous cities in America. Despite my hometown's nefarious claims to fame, my childhood was one of love, homemade dinners, CYO sports, and a mom and dad (though separated) who were fully present - encouraging me every step of the way.
My earliest memory of wanting to study medicine was formed in the waiting room of my pediatrician's office.
When I was young, I was prone to near-constant ear infections, which landed me in the office of Dr. Williams, my pediatrician, almost monthly. Sitting on a side table next to a musty green, germ-filled couch in the corner of his waiting room was a stack of illustrated medical books designed specifically for kids.
While my mom flipped through Better Homes and Gardens magazine, I would lose myself in these illustrations. Enamored by the complexity of the inner ear and the miracles of the cardiovascular system, I yearned to know more.
"How could all this be inside of me," I thought, "yet I have absolutely no idea how any of it works?" I decided early on that this would be my life's mission - to make sense of all the mysteries that lived inside me. My pediatrician was the living embodiment of compassion - comforting and confident hands, a reassuring and loving manner, he always knew how to make me feel better. I knew then that I had found my life's purpose.
"Mom, I'm going to be a doctor"
In my pediatrician's office, at the age of seven, I decided I was going to be a doctor.
But at age 19, after two years on the premedical track at the University of Washington, I knew something had to give. Watching my childhood fantasies give way to the abysmal reality of organic chemistry and advanced-level calculus - I struggled to gain traction.
Graduating among the top of my high school class, school, though never easy, was something I enjoyed and excelled at. I put in the work, and the results followed. In college, I found myself putting in twice the work and getting half the results. Then, nearing the end of my sophomore year, I met with my college guidance counselor, who confirmed I had little chance of fulfilling my medical school dream. I felt dejected and depressed. Acknowledging my lackluster freshman/sophomore GPA, this declaration came as no surprise, but hearing somebody else substantiate my worst fears was validation.
Then, I met a PA
During my first year in college, excited to be at a university with a medical focus and eager to jump in headfirst to do anything and everything I could in the medical field, I found my way to the Hall Health Student Health Center and offered my services. At the time, they had a part-time student position in medical records, and without hesitation, I took it!
That year, in the afternoon, a few days a week, I got to roam the student health center, delivering and retrieving medical records (these were the old days when they still used paper charts) and getting to know all the office staff, nurses, doctors, MAs, and who is this guy in the orthopedic department?
"I'm a physician assistant," he said with a smile. A physician what?
You see, back in the late 90s, PAs were still rare. So, seeing this happy, independent medical practitioner working solo in the orthopedic department of the student health center was a major revelation! He let me hang out with him the next afternoon. The following day, I made an appointment with my guidance counselor.
"Mom, I'm going to be a PA!"
Entering my junior year of college, I dumped the premedical track and changed my major to Zoology (albeit with a medical focus). I signed up for anatomy, physiology, genetics, advanced cellular biology, sociobiology, biostatistics, and biomechanics. I recovered the passion and wonder that I had found as a child, my grades went from Bs and Cs to all As, and I made the Dean's list two years running.
Meanwhile, at Hall Health, I graduated from medical records to the lab where I was trained as a phlebotomist. Now I was getting hands-on patient care experience and I took shifts drawing blood in the University Hospital. In addition to paid work, I volunteered to transport patients, refining my gift of gab as I moved them throughout the hospital for surgeries and procedures. Over the summers, I continued to find every opportunity to serve others.
Upon graduation, I used my phlebotomy skills to secure a job as a mobile phlebotomist for the Puget Sound Blood Center. I took night classes at the community college and got my EMT certification. I continued to pick up shifts at the University of Washington Hospital. The following year, I submitted my first application to PA school. After a couple of failed attempts, I found my perfect match at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) (now Rutgers PA Program).
Becoming a PA is the single best decision I ever made!
I applied to become an NHSC Scholar during my second year at UMDNJ's PA program.
Though I was turned down for the NHSC scholarship the first time, I applied again during my second year and was accepted. Words cannot describe how excited I was to be part of the NHSC family and fulfill my dream of practicing medicine in an underserved community.
Rutgers PA program was a 27-month program spread over three years, resulting in a master's degree in physician assistant studies. I can assure you that PA school was not easy, but it was also one of the greatest experiences of my life.
There were times I was ready to give up. Luckily, along this path, I found the love of my life who accompanied me to NJ, encouraged me, and believed in me. You will be happy to know PA school only strengthened our bond. Today, years later, we look back at this time with our two children and wonder where all the time has gone!
My National Health Service Corps Placement
After graduating from PA school, I hit the road to find an NHSC job site. I won't lie; this process was a bit daunting. But I found my perfect match in a small farming town about three hours south of where I grew up in the town of Greenfield, CA.
If I had to summarize the feeling of going into a rural community often required to work as the sole practitioner on weekends as a new graduate... the word would be frightening! However, I had a ton of support and a group of doctors and PAs/NPs who molded me to become the confident PA I am today.
Upon fulfilling my two-year service agreement at The Greenfield Mee Memorial Clinic, I spent eight additional years working there. I loved every single day of that job!
Working in a community with limited access to health care keeps me grounded. It reminds me every day why I went into medicine. It makes me a better person, a community member, and a father.
Taking a Year Off and Traveling The World
Yep, you read that correctly. From 2015-2016, my wife and I quit our day job jobs (RN and PA, respectively), rented out our home, took our kids out of daycare and kindergarten, transitioned to roadschool, and traveled the world. If you are interested, I document our journey on a website called Our Family Gap Year.
When some people believe that a task is impossible, they will come up with numerous justifications to support their claim. However, for those of us who believe that it is achievable, there are many compelling reasons to take a break from our daily routine. As someone who has done it before, I can attest to this. The following quote truly resonates with me:
“Don’t be one of those people that gets to the end of their life and wishes they had done this or done that or hiked this trail or spent a month on that island just down by the tip of Italy. Don’t get to the end of your life and wished you’d done something special and unique with your kids when you could have. You’ve got a window … and it’s closing … from the moment they’re born it’s closing. You’ve got a choice. There’s a lot in life you want to do. You dream about. But this isn’t like reading Shakespeare or learning Greek or taking a pottery course. Those things you can do when you’re 22 or 82 and it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. But traveling with your kids is something you have to do now. You have to start now. Start planning. Start thinking. Start thumbing through guide books, running your fingers over maps, staring at pictures of beaches and mountains and rope bridges and great teeming Asian markets and see yourself, with your kids, slowly weaving your way through the magic."– My Little Nomads
Our son was four, and our daughter was six when we left for our trip. My wife and I were both 35 years old. Neither of us has trust funds; we worked hard and had saved about 65,000 dollars prior to our departure. This one-year journey, where we stepped away from our jobs and out into the world, was one of my life's most essential and transformative experiences.
When we arrived back home it was time to renew my PA certification. So in an effort to study more efficiently I began work on a small side project at www.smartypance.com. I spent 6 months in a shared workspace building the site and good news, I passed my recert! 🤩
I was always planning to return to work, but I feared what employers may think about my one-year hiatus. However, instead of hiding behind my year away from clinical practice, I decided to highlight my experiences from that year right at the forefront of my cover letter. To my surprise, people were knocking down the door to interview me. And, instead of employers being concerned about my year away, they seemed to be all they wanted to talk about. Who would have thought!
Looking back now, it's not surprising. We all have inner urges to do something crazy from time to time. I guess it was refreshing for employers to meet someone just so crazy. This made for an easy transition into the next step along my PA career path.
Dabbling in PA Specialty Practice
From 2016 to 2018, I took a brief hiatus from family medicine to join an integrative pain medicine specialty practice in my community.
We treated the full spectrum of pain, addressing both the physical and psychosocial needs of our patients. It was a profound experience that would transform the way I approach and treat pain and provided a unique skill set that has made me a better PA and provider.
Back to my One True Love: Family Medicine
At the end of 2018, I left the world of private practice and returned to my one true love: family medicine and public health.
It's a dream to be part of a dedicated medical team combining allopathic care, integrative behavioral health, and substance use treatments, along with complementary and alternative medicine services to community members who have traditionally been marginalized by socioeconomic, cultural, language, or other barriers to health care.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to wake up every day and do what I love.... and so should you!
It’s so rewarding to be a physician assistant because this work helps people. For me, there is no better path to personal fulfillment and happiness.
Here is me interviewing myself 🙂
I Appreciate You!
I just wanted to finish by saying that I’m here for you, not only as a guide while you begin or continue your education career but also as a friend.
I do my best to respond to all emails (it’s getting tougher as this blog gains in popularity, but I will always do my best to respond), and I don’t hold myself above anybody. I’m not special; I’m just a guy who likes to work hard, work smart, and use the influence I have been granted online to make the world (and hopefully the PA profession) a better place.
Thank you so much for your support. And if you’ve made it this far, I’d love for you to come to say hi to me on my Facebook Page. I look forward to meeting you!