Starting My Career as a Physician Assistant...Now
I asked Marissa if there was a photo she wanted to use for this interview.
“You can draw one, can’t you?"
...So here is my portrait of Marissa.
Here she is in her white lab coat, stethoscope draped around her neck.
We’ve all rallied around the medical community to show them our gratitude and support. But what is each person’s experience really like? We often think of the medical professionals working in the COVID-19 unit, and are so thankful for their sacrifices.
But how does the pandemic affect other branches of care? And what is it like to start your medical career amidst a worldwide pandemic? How do you find your footing?
Marissa was gracious enough to answer a few questions about her experience so far.
So with no further introduction, meet Marissa.
Tell me about yourself.
My name is Marissa and I have been a Physician Assistant (PA) for 5 months in Houston. I graduated with my masters last fall and chose to begin my career in Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Texas Medical Center. Working all inpatient, I spend my time on the Labor and Delivery floor triaging in the OB Emergency Department, managing high risk antepartum, labor and postpartum patients, as well as delivering babies and assisting in cesarean sections.
As you have less than six months under your belt, you're really beginning your career as a PA. How has this been as a first experience? How does your current experience working in a hospital compare to when you were in school?
As I am a recent graduate and still in training, I am incredibly grateful to my supervising physicians and physician assistant colleagues for being patient and understanding as I work to increase my knowledge and confidence as a provider. There is such a steep learning curve in OBGYN as is, but the ever-changing climate and protocols make trying to remember everything I am taught on a daily basis impossible. My responsibilities increase daily and it is a wild time to be starting out in the healthcare world. I cannot imagine the difficulties my classmates and colleagues face that have just started in emergency medicine, critical care and on the front lines.
Since you’re fresh out of PA school, did you have any class related to managing a pandemic or something similar?
Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything of the sort. We did have a course titled Health Promotion and Prevention which highlighted the importance of preventative medicine but focused more on the comorbidities which hit close to home in the US and didn’t speak to pandemics or anything similar. There was an optional add-on Global Health Symposium but it was not included in tuition and I was not able to participate in that course.
What measures are being taken at the hospital to keep patients and employees safe?
Other than the national shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and supplies, most measures being taken, apply on a smaller hospital system-wide scale. In the hospital where I am employed, there is a no visitor policy with the exception of one visitor that is not allowed to leave the hospital for the duration of the admission in the following cases: laboring patients, pediatric patients and those receiving end of life care.
All elective surgeries have been delayed until further notice which has halted many gynecological procedures, including tubal ligations, a simple irreversible contraceptive procedure that is quickly performed laparoscopically (with small incisions in the abdomen used for camera and surgical instruments) after vaginal deliveries before the patient is discharged.
Policies change daily and this has been the toughest part for me; keeping up with changing protocols has been near-impossible. Bodies such as the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology which frequently publish guidelines that drive our standard of care have changed the way we approach induction of labor, administration of antenatal steroids and wearing certain protective gear for all vaginal and cesarean deliveries, to name a few.
When were these measures implemented?
These policies and practices were implemented mid-March when social distancing began to take place in the United States after data coming from other parts of the world hinted at how quickly this strain of coronavirus could spread.
How do you think most people feel about the situation?
Just considering obstetrical patients that I interact with daily, most are disappointed with the visitor policy at the hospital. Although all can agree that less foot traffic in Labor & Delivery will keep patients and hospital workers safe, a mother about to give birth now has to do so with only one visitor. For some, this is unimaginable and I have seen family members and loved ones being patched in via FaceTime immediately postpartum to meet their new bundle of joy virtually. The waiting rooms are empty. From my own personal opinion, I believe that every individual deserves to be surrounded by loved ones as they enter and depart from this life, but how could we have ever imagined a situation like this that could take that basic dignity away?
I imagine your daily routine has changed, how so?
Thankfully, I am still able to wake up and go into the hospital Monday through Friday each week and interact with my coworkers and patients. However, when I leave the hospital in the afternoon, I practice social distancing by staying home. I do go for a daily walk or run to stay active and get some fresh air, but I have no way of knowing when and how often I am exposed to COVID-19, or if I will respond asymptomatically and could infect anyone I come in contact with.
How have people surprised you for good?
The energy and positivity of so many, especially those caring for us tirelessly on the front lines has been nothing short of inspiring.
Do you think we’ll come out of this with a new “normal”? If so, what will it be like?
I do believe we have reached a new “normal”; not one that will be this extreme but I cannot imagine a world with concerts, festivals, sporting events and other close-contact situations before there is a vaccine developed. And even then, now we cannot believe that we live in a time where we are untouchable by something like this. My hope is that we can all come out of this realizing that each person must do their part so that the new “normal” can incorporate all of the things we used to love doing and are currently missing out on.
How do you stay sane these days?
Daily fresh air and exercise, trying new recipes, drive-thru margaritas [to be drunk once home] and FaceTime cocktail parties.
What are you reading, if anything, these days?
Currently waiting on my delayed Amazon order of Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. Going to have a transatlantic book club with one of my friends in the UK!