Mary Ritter, PA-C
Mary Ritter, PA-C, has dedicated 30 years of her career to the most vulnerable population of patients imaginable. Since 1987, she has treated sexually-abused children whose ages range from infancy to 18 at clinics and juvenile centers throughout Santa Clara County, California.
Ritter is currently the primary examiner on a team that performs medical evaluations on sexually abused children and teens, commercially sexually-exploited and trafficked youth, and children in the foster care system. Her work requires frequent travel across a wide geographic area covering more than 1.7 million residents.
In treating patients, Ritter must provide trauma-informed care that focuses on respecting, informing and connecting patients to resources that will help to facilitate their healing and recovery. It’s a deeply affecting line of work that requires as much empathy and compassion as medical education and expertise. During exams, Ritter must navigate delicately through patients’ shock and embarrassment, and due to age, even overcome possible communication limitations. Ritter has learned over a number of years and thousands of cases to separate personal emotions from professional duty, and she finds strength in her patients’ resiliency and will to overcome.
“The most striking thing to me about my work is that children are amazing despite horrible conditions,” said Ritter. “I know I can’t be everything for my patients, but a child who is well-supported can recover pretty well. It’s the children who aren’t supported or believed by an advocate that have a tougher time recovering.”
Ritter also lives an hour away from her home clinic, which is both a literal and symbolic separation of work and home.
“I try not to carry my work home,” she said. “I usually try to accomplish everything I need to do for work during the day so that it doesn’t follow me home at night.”
In addition to her day-to-day responsibilities, Ritter is an active member of the California Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, the California Academy of Physician Assistants, the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect and the American Academy of Pediatrics. She most recently received a prestigious achievement award from Legal Advocates for Children and Youth (LACY) in recognition of her 30 years of dedicated service at the Center for Child Protection.
Ritter has a total of 40 years of medical experience under her belt and maintains she could work another decade if possible.
“I love my work and I would keep working well into my 70s if I could,” she said. “I’ve loved working in pediatrics because I’ve always been fascinated with how children grow and develop, how they respond to traumatic events, and how I can be helpful in ways that are appropriate.”