Donna Seton, PA-C

Donna Seton, PA-C, is the chief PA in hospice and palliative medicine at Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona where she provides critical end-of-life and advance care planning and also engages in strategic interdisciplinary planning. She is the only PA on the palliative care team at the Phoenix VA and has taken on a leadership role in education as a palliative and end-of-life care certified trainer, responsible for training other team members.

Since 2009, Seton has practiced palliative medicine – an area with a projected provider shortage of nearly 18,000 vacancies due to America’s aging population. Seton educates medical students, residents, and PA students about palliative care, both as a preceptor and a guest lecturer at several universities in the Greater Phoenix area. She previously served a three-year term as chair of all PAs in the Phoenix VA Healthcare System and served as a PA representative to the PA Professional Standards Board, which is responsible for appointments, promotions, and advancements as well as preliminary scope of practice approvals. She holds a leadership role in PAs in Hospice and Palliative Medicine (PAHPM) and has been active in promoting legislation related to PAs and palliative care.

“Donna exemplifies the PA leader,” said Danielle Kempton, PA-C, a friend and colleague. “She has carved out a role as a valuable member of the palliative care team, increasing the scope of practice for PAs in the VA system. She has demonstrated her expertise by becoming an educator, not just of PAs, but of physicians, nurses and other members of the care team. She has brought attention on a larger scale to the importance of end of life care and the ability of the PA to function in this capacity."

Seton advocates for legislative change both locally and nationally in service to her commitment to patient advocacy and making a difference in the lives of her patients. One of the legislative efforts she’s supporting is the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA), a federal bill calling for increased palliative care and hospice training for health care professionals, a national campaign to inform patients and families about the benefits of palliative care, and enhanced research on improving the delivery of palliative care.

“This bill aims to educate providers on how to have better end-of-life discussions with their patients,” said Seton. “As providers, it’s our role to ensure our patients have the best quality of time with whatever time they have. We need to talk with patients about what they understand about the disease process, determine what is an acceptable quality of life for them based on their values and priorities, coordinate medical support they may need, and support their overall goals of care.”

Though the work can be emotionally draining at times, Seton said it’s tremendously rewarding. However, PAs looking to enter the specialty must understand that breaking bad news is a skill that must be learned and continuously honed. Patient stories will affect providers, and they should practice and maintain self-care to prevent burnout. She credits her own experience working in specialties such as urology, internal medicine (both outpatient and inpatient) and urgent care with providing additional invaluable experience she finds helpful for her work in palliative medicine.

“It’s a fantastic field growing every year,” she said. “We know PAs can work in palliative care, and as efforts continue to advocate for expanding the hiring and use of PAs in the specialty, more positions will become available. With the advanced education and experience afforded by the flexibility of the career field, PAs can bring their knowledge and skills to palliative care teams and be part of the solution to improving delivery of care for our patients throughout their lifespans.”