About NCCPA

NCCPA is dedicated to serving the interest of the public.

We do so with a passionate belief that certified PAs are essential members of the health care delivery team who provide millions access to more affordable, high quality health care.

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Making a Difference...

Read these 9 profiles about PAs who have been nominated by their peers as representative of the great work performed by Certified PAs. Then click here to read about 9 more spotlighted PAs.

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Dan Frazee, PA-C

July 10, 2017

Principal, Bluestone Healthcare Services, LLC
Certified Physician Assistant (PA-C)
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How Certified PA Dan Frazee makes a difference

PA-C Dan Frazee’s friends joke that he has attention deficit disorder because he is constantly in motion.

“I think that is I why I have been successful in practice and business—because I can multitask and enjoy doing multiple things,” he says. “That is what PAs do. We change fields, we diagnose and treat every type of patient. Today more than ever, PAs push the envelope, and this is where we really thrive.”

Pushing the envelope has led Frazee to the consulting industry where, as founder of Bluestone Healthcare Services, he provides services for veterans and recommendations to hospitals, physicians and industry.

His background includes 10 years working as a Certified PA in primary care, urgent care and emergency medicine, where multitasking is a must. He has taught at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Science PA Program and through Medicus published the article “Cost Savings Using Advanced Practitioner Model in Urgent Care.”

While practicing, Frazee moved into business and administrative roles. He co-founded a multiple provider practice, and later became director of medical affairs for a group of urgent care/occupational medicine practices throughout southern New Hampshire.

During this time, he developed his own leadership and mentorship skills and opened his consulting business three years ago. Today, Frazee works part time at the VA in Boston performing compensation and pension exams — medical evaluations that allow veterans to connect to the services they need. “There is a backlog and so my business increases access to care for these veterans,” he says.

The other part of his business includes advocating with his clients to expand roles for PAs in both practice and administration and encouraging PAs to push for those positions.

“I hear about under-utilization of PAs, and I have seen it firsthand,” Frazee says. “For example I was director of medical affairs in a group of primarily physician dominant practices with a lack of understanding of the financial benefits and quality care a trained, highly efficient PA can bring to the team. I restructured it in a way that healthcare remained at a very high level of quality but profits improved.”

Bluestone Healthcare Services consults in the areas of patient access, office efficiency and provider retention, all ways to decrease operational costs while promoting high quality care. This includes developing policies and procedures to maximize staff efficiency from onboarding to day to day utilization.

Frazee is also looking out for the next generation of PAs. “We offer seminars for graduating PAs on market analysis, salary and bonus structures and contract negotiation, trying to help them get the best start possible,” he says.

Impact

“It has been a continuing education to explain what Certified PAs bring to the table, clinically and administratively,” Frazee says. “My passion is to advance PAs in leadership and unlock what we can do for patients, physicians and healthcare systems. I am hoping there is an evolution and OTP (optimal team practice) is a great start to be able to do that. I tell people we are not planting a new flagpole; we are extending the existing one. We are extending the ability of PAs to care for more patients. We are educated in the medical model, and thus a collaborative relationship with physicians rather than a supervisory approach makes sense.”

Dr. Michael Edwards, who has known Frazee for seven years as his supervisor, colleague and friend, supports him enthusiastically, saying: “Dan compliments his strong clinical acumen with an entrepreneurial spirit that pushes his own career beyond barriers others in his profession have not thought to breach.”

NCCPA salutes Daniel Frazee, PA-C, for working to expand roles and leadership positions for Certified PAs.

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Shirisha Vallarapu, PA-C

July 17, 2017

Florida Skin Center
Certified Physician Assistant (PA-C)
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How Certified PA Shirisha Vallarapu makes a difference

Since Shirisha Vallarapu, PA-C, began working at Florida Skin Center 13 years ago, she’s demonstrated how valuable PAs are in patient care. Back then she was the first PA in the practice; today, she runs the main location in Ft. Myers. Her hard work and daily drive instilled confidence in her supervising physician and trust from her patients.

“Shirisha is an invaluable part of our practice,” says Aurora Badia, MD, founder of Florida Skin Center. “She treats her patients with dignity and care, and our staff have come to rely on her daily.”

Vallarapu sees approximately 30 patients per day for routine checks and procedures including biopsies, excisions, cryotherapy, laser treatments, fillers, Botox and even surgeries.

When she’s not treating patients in the office, Vallarapu visits local companies, schools and retirement communities to spread awareness on the importance of maintaining skin health and to explain how PAs are excellent partners in health care.

She also dedicates time to treating the underserved. For 10 years, she’s had a hand in orchestrating an annual children’s outreach event, Dermatology from the Heart, hosted by Florida Skin Center. They open their doors and deliver free dermatologic care to local children. They typically see over 100 underserved children every year and perform skin checks, treat warts, and give samples for acne and eczema. Vallarapu was also involved with Miles for Melanoma, a 5K walk to support melanoma research for which helped her organization raise $20,000.

Vallarapu’s impact is felt throughout the practice: “We don't know what we would do without her,” says Diana Gonzalez, practice administrator. “She has a positive, uplifting attitude each day when she comes to work, and that helps to inspire the team. She is a leader within our organization, and her first priority is patient care.”

NCCPA salutes Shirisha Vallarapu, PA-C, for working and volunteering to promote skin health.

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Bradley (Brad) Hamann, PA-C

July 24, 2017

Ravenswood Family Health Center
Certified Physician Assistant (PA-C)
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How Certified PA Bradley Hamann makes a difference

When Certified PA Bradley Hamann began college, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. Being a PA wasn’t even on his radar.

Early in his college career, Hamann had the opportunity to go to Mexico, and there he learned Spanish. After college, he joined the Peace Corps and spent time in Ecuador, where he continued to hone his Spanish skills, a language he now uses every day in his role as a PA. Hamann returned from his trip and felt the calling to work in the medical field but still wasn’t sure direction to take. He started working as a medical assistant at a Planned Parenthood Clinic in San Diego, where he met a PA who was so passionate about her career that it sparked his interest in the PA profession.

Graduating from the Duke PA program 14 years ago, Hamann began working with the predominantly Spanish speaking population at Family HealthCare Network in Orosi, California to repay his student loans. The commitment was only for two years, but he loved the community and work so much he stayed for five.

Then he moved to the Bay Area and began working in an underserved area of East Palo Alto that included a more diverse patient population. He has a very intense schedule but loves the autonomy he has working in internal medicine. He also enjoys the diversity of the patients he sees in the clinic, bringing quality healthcare to immigrant families, the homeless, drug addicts and other marginalized populations that would otherwise go without care. Hamann sees about 20 patients a day, ranging from 20 years to 90 years old. He is instrumental in determining the care for their chronic diseases and connecting them with additional resources that can help in their education and treatment. Hamann describes his clinic as a one-stop shop where labs and x-rays can be performed on-site. He can also refer his patients to clinic counselors, health coaches, medical assistants, and others while remaining involved in their care and treatment.

Impact

He has many patients who speak neither English nor Spanish, and in those situations he uses language line phone service to translate between him and the patient. He loves using his Spanish skills and learning to speak other languages so that he can communicate more personally with his patients.

Of his patients, he says, “They are so grateful, appreciative and humble. I love learning about them and their diverse cultures.” He fondly recalls the cookies his Syrian patient brought him recently and has even learned a few Arabic sentences. He also has a patient that brings him cheese from Mexico on a regular basis.

“Brad gives compassionate care day after day, even with mounting pressure to do more as a general practitioner,” says Ivonne Velado, PA-C. “He is admired for his positive attitude and loved by his patients as well as his co-workers and colleagues. He is a prime example of the mission that the PA profession was founded on.”

Hamann says he is “most proud of providing culturally-competent care in his underserved community.”NCCPA salutes Brad Hamann, PA-C, for bringing quality healthcare to immigrant families and others who would otherwise go without care.

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Sampath (Sam) Wijesinghe, DHSc, AAHIVS, PA-C

July 31, 2017

Adventist Health Central Valley Network & University of California, Davis
Certified Physician Assistant (PA-C)
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How Certified PA Sam Wijesinghe makes a difference

Dr. Sam Wijesinghe, DHSc, PA-C, felt compelled to enter the medical field when tragedy struck the life of his third-grade companion. Wijesinghe grew up in a small Sri Lankan town with limited access to medical facilities. After his friend was involved in a serious motorcycle accident, first responders transported the boy to a hospital several miles away. By the time he arrived, he had already suffered irreparable brain damage. The event deeply impacted Wijesinghe, and he set goals at a young age to help people like his friend.

Practicing medicine became the conduit to realize his dreams, but he knew he wanted to study in the United States. That meant facing high tuition costs for medical school, especially for an international student. As an adult, he moved to the U.S., studied healthcare management and eventually worked for a healthcare company. However, his longtime ambition to practice clinically led him to become a PA, which afforded him a medical education with reduced financial burden and more time to spend with his growing family.

Today, Wijesinghe practices family medicine managing both urgent care and chronic patients at Adventist Health Central Valley Network (AHCVN) in Sanger, California. The central California town is home to less than 25,000 people with a shortage of primary care providers, and he was passionate about working in an underserved area.

“My patient pool ranges from pediatrics to geriatrics,” he said. “I manage care for the whole family. It’s satisfying to watch the growth of kids you’ve taken care of since they were infants.”

It is there, too, that he began his fight against HIV. Soon after joining staff at AHCVN, Wijesinghe was invited to join the University of California, San Francisco Fresno Family and Community Medicine Department as an HIV testing coordinator. He wanted to make a palpable difference, and as an HIV testing coordinator, Wijesinghe educates the community and fellow providers about the disease.

“HIV is very steady in the U.S. at about 1.1 million cases and 50,000 new infections each year,” he said. “One of the biggest challenges now is with patients between 15 and 39. About 60 percent of those infected don’t know they have the disease. That’s a very big number, especially when they act as though they don’t have it and engage in risky sexual behavior so that it is transmitted to others.”

Within the U.S. only 30 percent of HIV patients currently have viral suppression, meaning that the disease is controlled with medication so it is virtually non-transmittable to others. Among youth, that number drops to 6 percent. “That is a very poor situation, and we have a lot of work to do,” said Wijesinghe. “The young generation is the future, so we need to help them.”

Wijesinghe tackles the spread of the disease through HIV screenings and encouraging patients to follow challenging medication regimens and attend all appointments. He uses highly personalized methods to keep his patients accountable, and subsequently patients are more responsive. He explained, “If a patient doesn’t come to an important appointment, I call them personally. Normally clinicians are so busy they can’t do that, but I like to keep a small panel of HIV patients so I can call them to see how things are going.”

He adds, “Most of them are grateful about my phone calls and say ‘you are the only provider who calls me like that.’ I see that there’s a trust, and then I tell them, ‘You and I are a team, and we can work together to get this under control so you can lead a normal life."

Wijesinghe says it’s important to communicate that an HIV diagnosis isn’t a death sentence. Modern medicine makes the condition manageable and allows patients to have a similar life expectancy to those not infected. “It’s a holistic treatment approach,” he said. “I encourage them to stay connected with friends and family and be optimistic about life. They are more compliant with taking their medication if they feel that they have hope.”

Colleagues notice Wijesinghe’s impact on patient lives too. A. Ligonde, a co-worker, says, “He is very knowledgeable and compassionate towards his patients. He cares deeply about them and would go the extra mile to help someone in need. This is truly his calling.”

Recently, Wijesinghe reaped the benefits of a four-year investment. In May 2017, he earned his doctorate in global health and uses a new body of knowledge to amplify his message of HIV prevention and education. “I decided to go back to school because I could teach future clinicians including PA students at the university level while still practicing, share real cases with students and continue my research into HIV/AIDS topics.”

In addition to practicing as a clinician, Wijesinghe works as an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Davis for the Master of Health Services — PA Studies and NP degree programs. He received the HIV and AIDS fellowship research award at the American Conference for the Treatment for HIV in 2014. As a highly-sought speaker and lecturer, Wijesinghe leads lectures at several national conferences and events and also educates the next generation of PAs as a clinical preceptor.

NCCPA salutes Sam Wijesinghe, PA-C, for being an advocate for families in underserved areas and for HIV prevention and care.

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Jennifer Conner, PA-C

August 7, 2017

Sonterra Dermatology
Certified Physician Assistant (PA-C)
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How Certified PA Jennifer Conner makes a difference.

Jennifer Conner, PA-C, strives to enhance the face of PAs in dermatology through meaningful patient interactions and service to the dermatology community. Since beginning her PA career in 2006, she has emerged as a talented clinician and thought leader in the profession, and she continuously chases ways to expand community outreach, the footprint of PAs in dermatology and improve professional standards.

Conner’s unconventional path into dermatology began in the Army National Guard. After working as a medic and Medical Service Corps officer, she entered the U.S. Army Interservice PA program where she completed rotations under a dermatologist who imparted invaluable lessons and sparked her interest in the specialty. "He was an amazing mentor but tough,” she said. “I was drawn to dermatology because it’s an area of medicine that allows patients to physically see their transformations and involves a number of minor procedures as well.”

Conner now practices at Sonterra Dermatology where she performs a wide range of general dermatology and surgical procedures alongside her collaborating physician. But her impact doesn’t stop there. Her clinical career intersects with some of her philanthropic work for communities, children and fellow PAs in dermatology.

To open opportunities for PAs to get involved in a supporting critical research for viable melanoma treatments, in 2012, she spearheaded the Society of Dermatology PAs partnership with the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) for the Miles for Melanoma 5K program. She also served as president of the Society of Dermatology PAs (SDPA) and acted as a founding trustee of the Dermatology PA Foundation. She served as an MRF volunteer, offering free skin cancer screenings to Iron Man triathletes to bring awareness to the dermatology PA community; and she connected athletes, fans and spectators to the organization. Her involvement with MRF led her to establish an annual Miles for Melanoma race in San Antonio (where she practices) and in several cities across the country in coordination with SDPA conferences.

Impact

During her tenure as SDPA president, she oversaw the development and launch of its Diplomate Fellowship program, which is designed to offer new and seasoned dermatology PAs the full knowledge base needed to best serve patients in their specialty and complement training they receive from dermatologists. Under her leadership, fellow SDPA leaders launched a task force to investigate corporate buyouts in dermatology and the impact it has on PAs. She also helped to develop two PI-CME programs for dermatology PAs to conduct in their clinics. She has championed efforts to promote philanthropy, research and education – three main missions of the Dermatology PA Foundation (DPAF). Initiatives achieved thus far with the DPAF have included researching ways to ease patient access to care, increase dermatology PA involvement in local communities and patient advocacy groups, as well as hosting an inaugural silent auction that raised about $14,000 to send children with skin diseases to Camp Wonder in California.

"Jennifer goes above and beyond for the profession,” said colleague Joleen Volz, PA-C. “Despite having a family, she works tirelessly on multiple tasks and devotes a substantial amount of time to the national society. She solicits the opinions and expertise of her colleagues to inform her decisions, and that makes her a great leader.

Conner credits much of that capacity for leadership to personal and educational development opportunities in the military, but also a passion to enhance opportunities for PAs in a medical specialty she respects and enjoys.

“I love that our profession has grown and more patients understand what we do,” she said. “It’s great that we can offer better access to care for patients, educate patients and employers about what we do and offer a true extension of the healthcare team in collaboration with dermatologists.”

Through her platform, Conner will continue to rejuvenate ways to serve patients and the dermatology community.

NCCPA salutes Jennifer Conner, PA-C, for her efforts in strengthening the presence of dermatology PAs.

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Jennifer McMurray, PA-C

August 14, 2017

Kenton Community Health Center
Certified Physician Assistant (PA-C)
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How Certified PA Jennifer McMurray makes a difference.

Jennifer McMurray, PA-C, knows there’s more to patient care than just medicine. At the humble Kenton Community Health Center in the heart of Hardin County, Ohio, about 18 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and most patients are uninsured or underinsured. McMurray’s patients often face obstacles such as illiteracy, homelessness, financial uncertainties and drug abuse.

As a Certified PA in primary care, she strives to treat the whole patient, managing patients with multiple chronic conditions in addition to acute complications. McMurray once treated an uninsured woman who complained of back pain for months. She worked with the patient to find her affordable health insurance, which led to the discovery that the patient was struggling with stage three lung cancer. By removing hurdles, the patient secured insurance and now has a chance for a full recovery.

“I enjoy treating those who need our services the most,” said McMurray. “I like the challenge of eliminating barriers to treatment. I can help them find options, connect with them on a human level and convey that I’m interested in more than their health.”

McMurray created an outreach program in the form of a self-funded volunteer service committee at the clinic. This committee has offered free school supplies for students who schedule wellness exams, baby showers for expectant moms, Christmas dinners for families in need, gifts for the holidays for local nursing home residents, and numerous other activities.

“Jennifer is an excellent provider,” says colleague Tricia Templeton, PA-C. “She treats the most patients, and people look to her for help or advice about complicated cases. She’s a staple in our clinic and community and really demonstrates that she cares about improving the lives of patients.”

Impact

Not only is McMurray making a difference with her patients, but she's also improving the future of the PA profession and her clinic. She precepts first-year PA students and speaks to medical thought leaders about the PA profession. In 2015, she spoke at the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers Conference to promote and educate other clinicians and administrators about the impact PAs have in enabling greater access to care. McMurray also sits on the quality assurance board for the clinic, advocating for patients and their safety first.

Outside of work, she exemplifies what she instructs patients to do every day. As an avid runner, she maintains her health and fitness to practice what she advocates. During warmer spring and summer months, McMurray is often seen riding her bicycle to work.

McMurray also volunteers as a waitress at Table One, a “pay what you can afford” diner. Table One’s mission is to serve a healthy, affordable meal to the community, both to those who can pay as well as those who under normal circumstances would not be able to eat out at a local restaurant. Since there are no prices on the menu, patrons pay what they can afford.

Through patient advocacy, promotion of the PA profession and community service, McMurray has impacted and improved multiple lives in just her three short years of practice.

NCCPA salutes Jennifer McMurray, PA-C, for her dedication to patient advocacy and holistic wellness.

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John Reel, PA-C

August 21, 2017

Blue Mountain Health System
Certified Physician Assistant (PA-C)
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How Certified PA John Reel makes a difference.

John Reel, PA-C, has enjoyed the PA profession’s flexibility to move among many medical disciplines and work in multiple clinical settings. He has worked in general surgery, emergency medicine, orthopaedic surgery, pulmonary medicine, family practice, internal medicine and urgent care. He has worked for large national corporations, small hospital systems and private practices. Just this past April, he began working for a walk-in clinic healthcare startup.

“Working in different disciplines has built my management and leadership skills in addition to making me a better provider,” he says. “I have learned best practices in operations, training and in treating patients, and I know that it is incumbent upon me to be compassionate and to listen.”

Reel is the primary provider at Blue Mountain Quick Care, the first walk-in clinic in this small underserved town of Lehighton, PA. The clinic is hospital owned – filling a community need since neither of the two hospitals in the area offer fast-track care.

“This is a poor county, with lots of Medicaid patients and only a few providers in the county who will treat them,” he says. “The emergency rooms were slammed because patients had limited access to primary care and nowhere else to turn.

The Quick Care clinic has extended hours and offers an alternative to patients with common illnesses and minor injuries. No appointment is needed, and the care is provided at a lower cost than a visit to an emergency room. Patients are referred to a primary care physician for follow-up.

Reel’s patient population is diverse, from pediatrics to geriatrics, and many of them are under six or over 60 with multiple comorbidities.

“The reaction from the community has been extremely positive—better than we thought,” says Reel. “The patients are so humble, grateful, and appreciative.

Outside his clinical position, John has often volunteered -- at a different walk-in clinic, soup kitchens and food banks. He has also taught ACLS, BLS, ergonomic training, CPR, ROM strengthening and wellness seminars.

Impact:

Former colleague Donna Surjnarine says: “John's compassion, attention and commitment to putting patients at ease, his adept clinical acumen and his keen ability as an onboarding provider, are just a few of his value points. John trained me on EHR, in policies/procedures, and was my supporter and ‘rock’ as I transitioned into practice.”

Surjnarine adds: “Patients and families wanted to be seen by John specifically and would call ahead to make sure he's working before they come in. I have seen him comfort grieving families and go the extra mile to check on patients, while always being available to colleagues for a consult. He is an advocate for the PA profession and is someone that nurses, MAs, nurse practitioners, PAs and physician colleagues look to for leadership.”

At this point in his career, Reel is thoroughly enjoying the role of primary provider in a healthcare startup.

“The feedback from patient testimonials and surveys affirms that this was a much-needed service, and the grades are very high for patient experience and outcomes,” he says.

“In addition, I am working at my desired level of autonomy and independence. I have a strong relationship with a collaborating physician across town and we discuss what a good thing this has been for the community and the health system.”

For always being there for his community, colleagues and patients, NCCPA celebrates John Reel, PA-C.

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Katharine Breaux, PA-C

August 28, 2017

Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center
Certified Physician Assistant (PA-C)
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How Certified PA Katharine Breaux makes a difference.

The storied 40-year career of Katharine Breaux, PA-C, has been dedicated to managing the care of veterans. At the Houston VA, she is the longest-serving PA, overseeing a panel of about 130 HIV-infected patients, many of whom she has treated for over 25 years.

Breaux is the HIV coordinator for the infectious diseases (ID)/HIV clinic where she is the liaison between patients, ID providers, ID trainees, VA staff and administration, and outside agencies, including the City of Houston and the CDC. In addition to her clinical responsibilities, she has participated in several research projects, including pharmaceutical-sponsored protocols that led to the approval of several antiretrovirals used today. In the last few years, Breaux has assumed greater responsibilities within the clinic. She coordinates the Outpatient Parenteral Antimicrobial Therapy program (OPAT), a therapy program that allows patients to return home more quickly while providing substantial cost savings to the clinic, and the HIV Telehealth program with an assigned physician. She also assists in the care of Hepatitis-C infected patients.

In the community, Breaux promotes outreach programs that educate patients and the public on the status of the HIV epidemic and the treatment of HIV. She obtains VA support for HIV-related outreach programs, including supporting the City of Houston’s homeless programs, and leads efforts for field HIV testing days during National HIV Testing Day and World AIDS Day. During these events, she prepares collateral and coordinates the work of the many volunteers needed to execute goals for these events.

Outside the clinic, Breaux shares what she’s learned with others, giving more than 40 presentations at healthcare conferences throughout her career. She’s served as an editor for the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (JAAPA) and a member of the Clinical and Scientific Affairs Council of the American Academy of Physician Assistants. Additionally, she led a high-profile engagement as moderator and lecturer for the VA’s Physician Assistants Annual Conference in 2016.

Impact

Breaux’s approach to patient care is to remain personable, available and to listen. For her, the transaction between patient and provider is symbiotic and begins the moment she first meets a patient.

“I think that a visit with a patient begins when you call them from the waiting room,” she said. “You can tell if they have a limp, if they smile when you call them or if they appear depressed or if they’re carrying a backpack because they’re homeless. The right observations and questions lead to better problem solving.”

Throughout her career, she has witnessed the evolution of HIV and its impact on patients. A disease that was once considered hopeless is now manageable, and many of her patients are on newer classes of drugs that are more effective and improve quality of life. She cites that many can return to work or go to school, and their relationships significantly improve with friends and family.

“Her patients respect her clinical skills and love her caring personality,” said Dr. Maria C. Rodriguez-Barradas. “She is the one person that all of our patients can recognize and is the person other clinicians will turn to for questions or guidance related to HIV care or ID issues.”

In addition to patient care, Breaux directs her attention to interns and college students too. Many who have rotated through the clinic have pursued careers as PAs or nurse practitioners, sought her mentorship and sustained longstanding professional relationships with the seasoned veteran.

Breaux is more than a “triple threat,” excelling as a clinician, mentor, administrator, and researcher. Because she’s intently committed to fulfilling those roles, it may be a while before another PA-C surpasses her tenure.

NCCPA salutes Katharine Breaux, PA-C, for her career-long dedication and contributions to HIV/veteran care and research.

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Shannon Cornwell, PA-C

September 4, 2017

St. Jude Medical Center
Certified Physician Assistant (PA-C)
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How Certified PA Shannon Cornwell makes a difference.

Abdominal pain, chest pain, lacerations, dislocated joints, drug abuse… These are all typical cases seen in the St. Jude Medical Center emergency room in Orange County, California. What’s not so typical is how Shannon Cornwell, PA-C, treats these patients. For the 25-30 patients she sees every day, it’s not simply admit, assess and treat. It’s about making an impact in their lives.

When a young man was admitted to the ER having a psychotic break, Cornwell spent time by his bedside talking with him, even though he was essentially unresponsive. A year later he came in to visit a relative, and he thanked her. “He told me, ‘You talked to me like I was a person and didn’t dismiss me like I was crazy,’” remembered Cornwell. She says this is always a reminder to her to be compassionate and treat patients like people - something that sounds simple but can be difficult to do in the fast-paced environment of emergency medicine.

“They’re not just cases, and they’re not just broken bones,” says Cornwell. “You can interpret labs and give them medication, but if you lack the component of human compassion, you’re missing an important part of the process.”

Cornwell takes time to get to know her patients and learn their personal stories. “I’ll try and relate to them,” she says. “If they’re going through something, I’ll share a similar experience that may help them feel better. It makes them more comfortable.”

According to Cornwell, this can aid tremendously to their recovery. “To me, it’s not about having a provider-patient relationship, but more of a personal relationship and letting the patients know they’re not alone.”

Coworkers recognize Cornwell’s personal approach to patient care. “Shannon has encountered several patients who have limited resources and no local family to help them, and she’s taken it upon herself to help them out,” says Megan Maddock, PA-C. “She’ll take them to doctor appointments, ensure they have food, sign them up for programs for extra assistance and check up on them for general health.”

One of the most memorable patient experiences for Cornwell was a woman who came in to the ER with a needle stuck in her arm from doing drugs. After extracting the needle, Cornwell talked to her about recovery options and even exchanged phone numbers so she could check in with her every now and then. “She would go through some bad times where she disappeared for a bit and didn’t respond to my texts, and then she’d come back,” said Cornwell. “After about a year, she was clean – she is such a strong person. To this day, we keep in touch, and it’s wonderful to see her in such a good place in life.”

Another patient has become an important part of her and her family’s lives. Cornwell chuckled as she recalled treating a “cranky and feisty old man” when he came in for a broken hip. After being discharged from the hospital, he was admitted to an inpatient rehab facility. She visited him there and drove him home once he was ready to leave. “I found out he was living in a hoarding situation, so my family and I cleaned his house for him.” He is now a big part of her family’s lives. They bring him groceries, cook him meals, and make sure to spend time with him at Christmas. “My kids always ask me when we can see him next.”

In her 14 years of practice, Cornwell has treated and helped many other patients. Working in the ER, she meets her patients at difficult, stressful times in their lives, and she does anything she can to make their lives a little better. “Sometimes there’s an immediate fix, but other times there’s not,” says Cornwell. “Yet every day there’s an opportunity to learn something about myself, my patients and medicine.”

“Shannon is everything I could wish for in a head PA,” says Kristine Koh, MD, FACEP. “She is hard-working, reliable, loyal, fair, sincere, responsive, dedicated, respected, and trustworthy, not to mention also being an outstanding clinical emergency department PA. We are blessed to have her working with us as she contributes immensely to our success as a team.”

Maddock adds, “She is making a difference in each individual's life through loving, supportive care. Her heart is bigger, lighter and warmer than anyone I've ever known, and her patients end up with a better quality of life.”

Cornwell says she feels fortunate to work at a hospital that supports a personalized approach to patient care. “St. Jude Medical Center is not only nationally recognized for excellence, but is also patient-centered and fosters an environment that allows employees to have that ‘sacred encounter.’ What is this life if we can’t continue to serve people in that way?”

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