Profiles

Meet our Students, Graduates, and Preceptors


CHA/PA Alumni & Precepting Powerhouse Elizabeth picture small

Elizabeth Gyorkos is a 1989 CHA/PA alumni and seasoned preceptor. She has worked primarily in pediatrics and over the last 27 years she has precepted approximately 100 CHA/PA students in the clinic. Undeniably a powerhouse of medical knowledge and experience for our students, she is an essential member of the CHA/PA family.
 
Elizabeth’s journey to medicine began humbly at the age of 12 when she started babysitting for 25 cents an hour. This, she explains, is where she fell in love with babies and caregiving for children. Coupled with an existing love for sciences, this matured into her active preparation to attend medical school. While volunteering at People’s Clinic in Boulder, Elizabeth met her first PA, Kathie Dolce (CHA/PA class of 1981). At the clinic, Elizabeth had the opportunity to shadow Physicians, Nurse Practitioners, and Kathie. So impressed with Kathie’s knowledge and ability to care for patients and educate families, Elizabeth made the decision to switch her aspirations from medical school to PA school.
 
Describing her 3 years at CHA/PA as “wonderful, exciting, challenging” and feeling like a “second family,” Elizabeth looks back fondly at all the experiences in school that led to lifelong friends who are still active parts of her life today. After attending CHA/PA, she began her career in general pediatrics for 1 year and then moved out of state to work on a pulmonary team with Cystic Fibrosis patients at Duke University. Working there for 3 years, she describes learning how important a multidisciplinary team is for good patient outcomes, but she also grew homesick for Colorado. Deciding to return to the state, she accepted a position at National Jewish Health in the Pediatric Asthma & Allergy Day Program where she has worked for over 27 years.
 
At the Asthma & Allergy Day program, Elizabeth works closely with providers specializing in behavioral health, rehab, nutrition, respiratory, pulmonary, allergy, immunology, GI, ENT and many other consultants. The most rewarding part of her job as a PA in this setting is realizing the difference she and her team make in the lives of their patients and their families. Thank you Elizabeth for all you do for your patients, their families, and as a preceptor for other CHA/PA students- in turn touching the lives of their future patients as well.


Changing Careers and the Push for PA LeadersTNeillsmall

Travis Neill, CHA/PA Class of 2009, didn’t always want to be a PA or to work in medicine at all. His first career was an 8 year path through the corporate finance world. Like others we’ve encountered through our program, Travis decided his life’s journey needed to take a compassionate turn in caring for others. While working in finance, Travis volunteered for the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) organization. The nationwide group with local chapters matches trained volunteers to child abuse and neglect cases with the purpose of advocating for and mentoring the involved children. This experience helping others drew Travis to the medical profession and led his decision to change careers. The choice to pursue his education specifically as a PA was made because of the wide range of opportunities it opened for him to be deeply involved in the care of others.

Most recently, Travis has been working in Geriatrics and as an Assistant Medical Director for a corporation that owns over 30 nursing homes. With a Physician Medical Director, he floats to around 12 different facilities helping with medical oversight which includes chart reviews, antibiotic stewardship efforts, psychiatric medication reviews, and quality assurance projects. He holds board positions on both the Colorado and American Medical Director Associations. This leadership position is very meaningful to Travis because (in the spirit of a true trailblazer) it took years of hard work and a few rejections to convince someone to give him the opportunity. As a PA, he frequently works to counter views that director positions are only suited for physicians.

Travis looks back fondly at his time in the CHA/PA program. Meeting his wife of 11 years when he started the program in 2006, they now have an 8 year old daughter together. Halfway through PA school, Travis also injured his back in a ski accident and gratefully recalls how his classmates went above and beyond to assist him when he needed surgery. Whether it was moving couches into the classroom so he could lie down for exams or bringing food to him as he recovered, the spirit of family in the program truly showed up for him.

Travis hopes his legacy in medicine as a PA is one that challenges the status quo for what “typical” PA roles look like. In the name of providing the best care for his patients, he is motivated to be a part of the solution to the challenges the medical community faces. In his words: “Now that I have been a physician assistant for 10 years, I can say unequivocally that my worst days as a PA are better than my best days working in finance.”


A Career Driven by Purpose

“You can’t change the whole world, but you can change the whole world for one person, and the next one and the next one.” Those IMG_1794are the words that have served to inspire the lifestyle and practice of CHA/PA Alum and Preceptor, Tracey Wall. The words were spoken to her by the Medical Director aboard a hospital ship off the coast of Africa through the Mercy Ships organization. After practicing in Family Medicine on dry land for 5 years, Tracey and her family made the decision to move aboard the ship together where they lived and worked for the next 4 ½ years. She describes the years she spent with colleagues on the ship as an amazing experience because they were able to help save the population who were dying from unmet surgical needs. Witnessing hope reinvigorate the hopeless highlighted the privilege she lived with and in turn led her to feel thanks for the opportunity to be a part of these patients’ lives.

After returning to the US, Tracey resumed her work in Family Medicine where she enjoyed her role but lacked the same sense of purpose she felt when working with Mercy Ships. Through speaking    with her supervising physician who was the only X-waivered provider in the entire region, she decided to get her certification as-well and work to treat those struggling with addiction. Training to work with patients holding this burden reignited the flame of deeper purpose Tracey had been seeking. For the next 3 years she balanced work at a Suboxone clinic in addition to patients at the Family Medicine clinic. Last fall, a clinic called Providence Recovery specializing in addiction opened in her community and she was approached with the opportunity to provide Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) to patients at this clinic. Tracey decided to accept the offer and she has been working solely in addiction medicine since December of 2019.

Citing her mother who was a nurse as probable inspiration, Tracey has always wanted to work in medicine. In college she initially pursued her education in Physical Therapy but soon changed her mind after a visit to Mali in West Africa. The severe medical shortages she witnessed on her visit inspired her to change paths and pursue a career as a PA instead. The CHA/PA program, the medical community at large, and the countless patients she has helped are undeniably so grateful that she did.

 


 

Lorrie Kehmeier: Longtime Preceptor, Alum & Provider

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As the 4th PA in Northern Colorado and an early CHA/PA grad (1984), Lorrie Kehmeier is no stranger to breaking new ground in the PA world. A current preceptor to our students at the Youth Clinic in Ft. Collins, Lorrie is a long-standing pillar in our students’ clinical education and a much appreciated ally to our program.

Starting as a fresh grad in a world where most physicians had never even heard of a PA, Lorrie found herself fortunate to have made connections during her clinical time as a student. Thrilled to have found a job at a time when they were scarce in the new profession, Lorrie joined the Youth Clinic team in Ft. Collins after graduating and has continued to work there since. From her humble beginnings as a fresh PA working in Northern Colorado, she also proudly witnessed and contributed to the incredible growth of the Youth Clinic. Starting out as a practice with one office and 5 providers, the clinic has grown to include 4 offices, an urgent care, and 21 providers. Lorrie describes the expansion as a good problem but also a challenge.

Continuing to pay it forward as a preceptor, Lorrie does not cease to inspire curiosity and foster learning in our students every day. She reflects fondly on her own time as a CHA/PA student on rotation at University Hospital where she did “well baby” rounds and had to learn to read a mercury thermometer from a mom of 3. CHA/PA is fortunate to partner with Lorrie as an educator and clinician and looks forward to witnessing her developing legacy in pediatrics!


A Career in Advocacy

Ann Davis

Congratulations to Ann Davis, 1979 CHA/PA grad, on her retirement this year from her position as the AAPA (American Academy of Physician Assistants) Vice President of Constituent Organization Outreach and Advocacy. Preceding her 24 years at AAPA, Ann also worked as a pediatric PA in California & Arizona, and spent time as a CHA/PA Faculty member.

Ann’s roots in her medical career began in a small northern Colorado town called Sterling where she was a full-time student at the local community college. In Sterling she worked as a nurse’s aide on medical/surgical services, in a level one nursery, and in post-partum service. Ann realized at that time that she did not come from a family of physicians and found it challenging to wrap her head around the financial and academic burdens that came with medical school. Describing the PA profession as being invented exactly for her, Ann found a home in the CHA program which enabled her to pursue the career she desired in Pediatrics.

Like other early CHA grads, Ann is familiar with participating in many “firsts.” A couple examples are that she was the first PA in Flagstaff, Arizona and also the first woman to serve as President of the Arizona State Association of PAs. Ann hopes that the legacy she has left in her career prior to retirement had a positive impact on the state laws governing PA practice and consequently improving care for their patients.


Alumni Receives AAPA Award

Ted

An accomplished member of the PA community, Ted Ruback (CHA/PA class of 1979) has recently been selected as the recipient of the AAPA Eugene A. Stead Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award for 2019. Retired in 2016, Ted has had a long history in PA education with achievements spanning from Founding Director of the first PA program in Oregon at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) PA program to PAEA advocacy, –including serving as President of the Board. He was also involved in the development of CASPA & Chair of the CASPA advisory committee, Chair of AAPA’s Education Council, site visits for ARC-PA, Chair of the PA Committee of the Oregon Medical Board, and many other invaluable contributions to the profession.

Self-described as always having been interested in a medical career and specifically pediatrics, Ted’s extensive PA journey was established at a career fair in 1975 where he learned of the profession and the CHA/PA program specifically. Attending with a “junior partner” as his mentee through the “Partners” program, which connects Colorado youth to adult mentors, Ted unexpectedly discovered his own career match. After deciding CHA/PA aligned perfectly with his professional goals, he applied to the program and this year marks his 40th year as a Physician Assistant. Following his graduation in 1979, Ted’s career began by working for a pediatrician in a small rural Washington State multidisciplinary clinic. He then moved on to work at a large HMO in Atlanta, Georgia where he also started his academic ventures by guest lecturing for the Emory PA program.

As an integral part of the development of PA education with contributions spanning nationally, Ted describes his most gratifying moment to be his time as Founding Director of the OHSU PA Program. During his 22 year tenure at the school, he enriched the lives of 576 graduates and the OHSU PA Program was listed by US News & World Report as among the top 10 PA programs in the nation in its very first year of eligibility. Having touched the lives of so many providers himself, Ted reminisces on his own role models from his time in PA school: “Throughout my entire career I have benefited from the teachings of my early mentors and role models. I recall as if it were yesterday, sitting with my fellow classmates on the floor of Henry Silver’s office listening to his every word while he generously shared “pearls” of wisdom with us.”

Celebrating 50 years of caring for our communities this year, CHA/PA congratulates Ted on receiving this award from AAPA and thanks him for his contributions to our program legacy.


CHA/PA Alum & Ally: Linsey Weller

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Linsey Weller is an alumni, preceptor, and well established ally to the CHA/PA Program. Involved in many areas including guest lecturing for our PA students, facilitating small group clinical discussions, and assisting in admissions interviews, she is a long-standing partner in cultivating the education of our students and shaping the future of the PA profession in Colorado. Currently serving as a Pediatric Hospitalist for Children’s Hospital Colorado, her work days are also a dynamic mix of responsibilities including caring for healthy newborns, complex medical inpatients, and most recently- coordinating PA students for the Yellow Team of the hospital medical wards.

Before taking the dive into PA school, Linsey worked as a research assistant in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati. It was here that she was co-author to a publication in the Arthritis and Rheumatism Journal of the American College of Rheumatology. It was also at this position that she learned of the PA profession and decided to return to Colorado upon acceptance to the CHA/PA Program. Linsey states “I knew that the PA profession was for me because I value the connection with people and every encounter is a valuable connection and a chance to educate another person to better themselves or their children.”

As a fresh CHA/PA graduate in 2005, her first position was working at Clinica Campesina in family medicine for 3 years, however she knew her heart was calling her to pediatrics. Following her first position, she moved to Advanced Pediatric Associates in Aurora, CO where she subsequently spent 9 years cultivating and developing her skills as a PA caring for infants, toddlers and adolescents. Linsey expresses that she hopes to be perceived by her patients as a friendly face, a close listener to their concerns, and an active participant in their medical decision-making processes.

As a self-described life-long learner, Linsey explains that she combats the inevitable plateaus reached in any career by challenging herself to “be more” and staying motivated to keep learning. This attitude of consistently challenging herself and breaking new ground is apparent in her current position where she was hired as the first PA in the Division of Hospital Medicine at Children’s Hospital Colorado. She hopes her legacy will leave a trail that makes hiring a PA a point of pride for the medical community as a whole.


Children's Hospital Colorado Pediatric Neurology Advanced Practice Provider

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An accomplished member of our CHA/PA alumni family, Stephanie Shea is a Physician Assistant currently working in Pediatric Neurology at the Children’s Hospital Colorado Pediatric Neurofibromatosis Clinic as an Advanced Practice Provider (APP). Having been with the department for the past 8 years, her responsibilities span from the outpatient clinic and inpatient service to the procedure clinic for lumbar punctures (LPs). Her busy days are filled with administering intrathecal medications for spinal muscular atrophy as well as diagnostic LPs for pediatric patients. Having stepped into a leadership role at the clinic, she has also started to participate in outreach clinics on the Western Slope and some telemedicine as well.

Before attending PA school, Stephanie was always drawn to neuroscience and medicine. After studying Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology at Emory University, she struggled with which career path to pursue, but ultimately her love for medicine led her to the CHA/PA program and her current journey as a PA. And a journey it has been… In 2012 due to a bike accident, she suffered from several broken vertebra in her neck and back. Stephanie describes the experience as “a very challenging time that taught me a lot about myself and my network of support.” Fortunately, after taking a short-term disability leave of 6 months, she was able to return to work with a new perspective having been a patient on the other side of healthcare.

Drawing from this new perspective, Stephanie describes the most rewarding part of her work as a provider to be caring for patients. Her experience working with the research team for an intrathecal drug, Spinraza, to treat Spinal Muscular Atrophy has also given her a unique front row seat to see spectacular progress in her patients. Since the drug has been approved, she has enjoyed the privilege of having the ability to make a difference in the lives of pediatric patients and their families who previously had very limited options.

As the lead APP in Neurology, the legacy she hopes to leave behind in medicine is through mentoring other APPs in her group and establishing a robust education and onboarding process for her fellow providers. By observing her personal experiences and continued motivation to provide the very best care for patients, the CHA/PA program takes pride in graduates such as Stephanie.


When Passion and Career Meet

Lynsay MacLaren_Workplace_PS

After completing her Master's of Public Health, Lynsay MacLaren felt something was missing. She was looking for more experience and education in clinical medicine. Enter the CHA/PA program, she graduated from CU with her Master's in Physician Assistant Studies in 2010 and has been making an impact ever since. Lynsay started working at Whitman-Walker Health in Washington, D.C. right after graduation. At Whitman-Walker she works closely with LGBT and HIV positive patients providing primary care and works as a research clinician. Whitman-Walker is a part of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) which conducts studies on HIV and Hep C.

Lynsay was drawn to the PA profession because of her interest in studying infectious diseases and providing care to patients with HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. Working with a diverse population does present challenges. Lynsay explains, “A challenge in regard to transgender care specifically is the lack of clinical studies in regard to this population. Much of what we do has no science behind it. The population is also very marginalized and can be treated [unfairly] in other medical centers so it is nice for us to be a welcoming and safe space.” Lynsay enjoys helping people and finding her niche as a PA within the research field.

Lynsay explains the impact her work has had on her life, “being a PA I have met so many people from different walks of life. I have had to learn over the years how to best deal with people with many different issues—be it mental issues, substance abuse, etc. I think that overall has changed the way I view the world and interact with people in general.”


A Career Dedicated to the Underserved

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Julia Gravlin entered the Physician Assistant profession in 1986, at a time where PA positions were difficult to find. Shortly after graduation, she sought out employment in Oakland, California, where most physicians were unfamiliar with PAs. She had to sell herself and the profession to break through, finding that her third year of clinical experiences were a major selling point. She ended up starting her career as a medical technologist in San Francisco where the AIDS epidemic was full blown. After a few months, Julia began her first position in pediatric medicine working both at a migrant farm clinic near San Jose and in a pediatric practice near Berkeley.

Julia moved on to pediatric emergency medicine, working at LA County USC Medical Center. This job ended up becoming her passion for over two decades – the USC Medical Center is an open door hospital for every uninsured and undocumented child in Southern California. “I have been able to see some of the rarest and most fascinating cases imaginable. I can honestly say that it never, ever got boring,” notes Julia.

She then decided to move on to the hospital-based county pediatric outpatient clinic, where she works today. This clinic provides care to a large population of medically, socially, and economically disadvantaged children. Julia loves that she is able to come along side of parents who are in a constant struggle to provide good care for their children. Many of the families she works with are challenged to care for their sick children while balancing the associated medical costs and full-time jobs.

Julia reflects back to her time at CHA/PA fondly, and especially appreciates the education she received on the psycho-social aspects of pediatric medicine and on physical and sexual abuse through CU’s Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect. This training enabled her to understand her responsibility as a provider to abused children and to work toward the best outcome for this population.


Specialized Education in Pediatric Critical and Acute Care

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Rachael Blea has known that she wanted to help others through medicine since she was a child. She had breathing issues which resulted in numerous doctors’ visits growing up, and her primary care doctor, in particular, left a big impression on her. She decided she wanted to emulate his sympathy and dedication in her own life. While volunteering at Open Bible Medical Clinic in Colorado Springs, she learned about the role of PAs and was hooked.

Interestingly, Rachael pursued International Trap Shooting at the Olympic level while pursuing her undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. She was a Resident Athlete at the Olympic Training Center from 2009-2014. She joined the CHA/PA class of 2017 a couple years after graduation. One of her biggest hurdles as a PA student has been balancing her family life with her studies. Her approach has been to focus in on finding effective study methods that optimize her learning so that she had time for her husband and step-daughter.

Rachael has chosen to specialize her education by participating in the Pediatric Critical and Acute Care longitudinal experience. This experience provides training to students in pediatric acute and critical care medicine throughout the three years of the program. Specialized instruction and clinical experiences with critical care physicians and physician assistants occur at Children's Hospital Colorado. This type of instruction can lead to careers in pediatric emergency rooms, intensive care units, and other acute pediatric care settings. Rachael has grown tremendously in her knowledge of critical care physiology, treatments, and management plans with extra exposure to this field. “It has been incredibly humbling to be part of the Pediatric Critical and Acute Care experience because it is the first one like it in the country. The CHA/PA program did an outstanding job creating such a well-collaborated experience.”

As Rachael looks toward her graduation this spring, she plans to pursue pediatrics in some capacity. Until then, she is gathering further exposure to various fields in her third year of clinical rotations while enjoying backpacking, mountain biking, skiing, and a day at the range when she can.


Military Service Leads to PA School

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“My deployment to Afghanistan would become the best and worst experience of my life.” Jason Leehan had vast experience treating everything from minor issues as a cold to traumatic amputations while serving in the Army. As a combat and flight medic, he spent time both in the U.S. and two tours in Afghanistan caring for the needs of his platoon, foreign soldiers, and local citizens. He was commonly independently treating people in remote locations while trying to keep up with medical education. Along the way, he encountered PAs both in his military service and while working in an ER that guided his interest in the PA profession.
Jason’s drive to be part of something bigger and caring for the sick and injured compelled him to apply to PA school and join the CHA/PA class of 2018. Thus far, he has most enjoyed filling in his medical knowledge as a student and better understanding the application of medicine. CHA/PA students have clinical experiences in all three years of the program. Jason has found blending his didactic education with clinical experiences has enabled him to directly apply his education in the clinical setting each year of the program. Additionally, students have access to the CAPE (Center for Progressing Professional Excellence), where they interact with standardized patients and high fidelity mannequins in simulation rooms. The CAPE has increased his confidence in clinical settings.
Despite the challenge of balancing his education with his personal life, he finds time to golf, ski, hike, and take advantage of all Colorado has to offer.


Serving Children with Infectious Disease

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Heather Heizer, a 2008 CHA/PA graduate, has had an interest in healthcare as long as she can remember. Her sister was diagnosed with Type I diabetes as an infant and her mother is a nurse, so she understood the importance of quality healthcare even as a young child. Before joining PA school, Heather spent several years as a lab researcher at National Jewish Health working on projects associated with tuberculosis and staphylococcus. While enjoying her research experience, Heather ultimately felt drawn to a profession with more human interaction and set her sights on PA school.

Since graduation, Heather has worked at The Children’s Hospital Colorado in the Department of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. She has always had a passion for microbiology so this field, coupled with her love for working with children, is a perfect fit. The patients she sees most commonly have fevers of unknown origin, osteomyelitis, brain abscesses, fever in the return traveler, post exposure prophylaxis, and a variety of other infectious etiologies. She also precepts CHA/PA students and finds that teaching keeps her current as well as strengthens her skills. “I try to teach the students to enjoy the journey, to have fun, and to make the most out of any learning experience they are in because ultimately, the experience is what you choose to make it.”

The field of infectious disease also presents its challenges. Heather works with victims of sexual assault soon after the exposure. While difficult, she feels this gives her the opportunity to “offer kindness, compassion, and some hope in extremely horrible circumstances." Additionally, she sees children who are terminally ill or in a later stage of their disease. Her goal with these young patients is to provide some joy and laughter while sharing a painful journey. Heather finds that children are so resilient and uninhibited, and despite the demands, she feels honored to serve this population.

Ultimately, Heather can sum up her love of working with patients and their families through her favorite Emerson quote: “To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”


A Chinese Doctor Pursuing the PA Profession

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Howard He had a lot of unique experiences before joining CHA/PA. He attended Wuhan University in China and practiced as a medical doctor at Jingmen Hospital for several years. After moving to the US, he completed a biotechnology master’s degree at Texas A&M, which led him to a medical researcher position at Houston Medical Center. He enjoyed the field of research, but longed to return to clinical patient care. Howard started to volunteer at the hospital to garner exposure to various fields, which is where he learned of the PA profession.

Howard began his PA education journey in June 2014. He has experienced some challenges in clinic as a non-native English speaker. It has become easier over time, but the move from China to the US with vastly different cultures and languages was difficult. He sees his third clinical year as a wonderful opportunity to grow in his communication skills.

Howard also manages to balance his time between his family and PA school. As a father of two boys, Jeremy and Jonathan, he has had to work hard at devoting time to both areas. He has found tremendous support through his family as well as his classmates. He notes, “When our class goes through a hard time, our friendships become more solid.”

Howard's father died of gastric carcinoma when he was teenager, so he is certain he would like to help people through the painful diagnosis of cancer. He hopes to work in an oncology unit at a hospital or large clinic.


Exploring the Field of Hospitalist Medicine

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Sarah Witowksi initially pursued her passion for medicine by working as a clinical research coordinator with breast cancer patients. While helping women join clinical trials at the University of Colorado, she had the opportunity to interact with a variety of health professionals. It is through this experience that Sarah realized that she wanted to be more involved in the medical decisions of patients and that the PA route best fit her goals.
CHA/PA’s program is unique in that students start clinical rotations their first year and end in their third year with ten, one-month rotations. During her third year as a student, Sarah spent a month rotating with an internal medicine physician. This rotation sparked her interest in the field of hospital medicine, so she was excited to learn about the hospitalist training fellowship at the University of Colorado Hospital.
Sarah began her one-year fellowship after graduating in May 2015. The fellowship exposes her to patients in a variety of settings from the general medicine floor to ICU, ED, and specialties such as neurology. Sarah loves the challenge of working with patients with medical conditions that she has only learned about in class, or even conditions that she has never heard of. The most challenging part of her position has proven to be setting up the correct care for each patient after they leave the hospital in conjunction with the case workers. It is essential that patients receive the correct follow-up labs and appointments. Despite the challenges, Sarah loves it. “When I am getting ready to discharge a patient from the hospital and they give me a hug and say thank you – it makes me feel like this is where I am supposed to be.”


A Graduate's Passion for the Underserved

Waskey Austin

Austin Waskey, Class of 2013, tried to ignore his nagging desire to practice medicine. He was teaching high school science for over four years, when he decided it was time for action. He spent the next four years continuing to teach, while working on his PA application and prerequisite courses. He was accepted into the CHA/PA program the summer of 2010 and has never looked back. Austin initially planned on attending medical school to practice as a family physician. Yet, after volunteering at hospitals and medical offices, he learned more about the PA profession and realized that it was a better fit for him.

The CHA/PA program offers various tracks, one of which is the CU Unite track. The CU Unite track is designed for students who are committed to serving the uninsured and those with limited access to health care in urban areas. Austin’s participation in the track enabled him to learn Spanish, gain exposure to underserved healthcare, and complete more clinical rotations in a family practice setting. Additionally, he was able to interact with a community of like-minded faculty and students.

Austin has worked at the Stout Street Health Center since graduation. He is passionate about caring for the poor and underserved and is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to care for them in that setting. The Stout Street Health Center provides primary care to homeless adults and children. This population tends to have a very high rate of mental illness, substance abuse, and childhood trauma.

Austin especially values the integrated team of providers at Stout Street. He works with a doctor, nurse, dental hygienist, behavioral health provider, and psychiatrist. CHA/PA’s mission is in action with a graduate passionate to serve in an underserved setting. “As a PA student, I learned that I am drawn to helping the poor and underserved. I find it fulfilling and exciting. I have never been bored at work. Never.”


Balancing Family and PA School

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“Don’t let anything hold you back.” That is the advice that Geoff Slater, Class of 2015, would give to individuals considering PA school. He has had additional challenges on his time over the last three years that many PA students have not – two beautiful little girls. Balancing family with PA school can be tough, but his experience testifies that it can be done. Geoff goes to the mountains most weekends and spends a lot of time with his kids, including nightly dance parties with his daughters before bedtime.

In addition to his family, a major source of support for Geoff has been his fellow classmates. He notes, “I would not have made it this far without them. We are our own built in support system.” Students form tight connections during their three years at CHA/PA, and beyond. Geoff had the opportunity to work with fellow students in an area of special interest to him, healthcare improvement. Geoff and classmate Karen Wilson served on the steering committee for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) Open School. The Open School focuses on empowering students to be agents for change in healthcare. Geoff especially appreciates that the IHI examines healthcare as a system, and works to address flaws in the system, rather than assigning individual blame.

Geoff has set his sights on working in family medicine, internal medicine, or pediatrics. His passion for the profession is further fueled by his sense of fulfillment as his service as a PA will help alleviate the physician shortage, especially in primary care.


Reflections of a 2nd Year Student

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Amy Buck, Class of 2016, had initially planned on a career as a physician. It was not until her grandfather was hospitalized while she was in her undergraduate degree that she was exposed to the PA profession. She followed up by researching the PA profession, and the associated opportunities, and decided that the PA path was for her.

Amy has had various experiences that have solidified her passion for the underserved and rural communities. Having grown up in a town of 250 population in Montana, she plans to practice in primary care in a rural setting after graduation. Primary care in a rural setting will enable her to provide healthcare for a wide variety of people with a broad range of ailments. Additionally, she has participated in a medical mission trip to Rwanda which had a profound effect on her and her heart for underserved individuals both abroad and in the U.S.

Looking back on the last year and a half, Amy feels that the support of her classmates and faculty, her simulation experiences at the Center for Advancing Professional Excellence (CAPE), and her clinical rotations stand out as highlights of her time so far at CHA/PA. Clinical rotations, which start in the first year of the CHA/PA program, have challenged her to both study harder and also learn about the “art of medicine”. “Medicine is much more than examining, diagnosing, and treating patients; it is about the relationships that you foster while being a medical provider and how you help patients achieve total body wellness,” notes Amy.


A Passion for Advocacy

Michelle Gaffaney

Michelle Gaffaney was first prompted to explore the PA profession by her grandmother, an OB/GYN nurse. The more Michelle learned about the profession, the more she was certain that the PA profession, and CHA/PA in particular, was the right path for her. While challenged to maintain a balance between school and her personal life, she has found support through fellow students, faculty, and staff. She notes, “The program fosters a feeling of support for one another and everyone involved only wants the best for others. I think this is what separates our program from others across the country and has made my time here so enjoyable.”

Michelle has a passion for advocacy that she pursued long before joining the Class of 2016. Throughout her undergraduate education, she involved herself in groups dedicated to preventing sexual assault on college campuses as well as groups that worked to protect the reproductive rights of women. So, it was only natural that she was drawn to the LEADS track upon joining the CHA/PA program. LEADS stands for Leadership, Education, Advocacy, Development, and Scholarship. It is an interdisciplinary track within the School of Medicine focused on training healthcare professionals to advocate for the needs of underserved and disadvantaged patients. This track enables Michelle to gain the knowledge she desires to advocate for patients at an individual, community, and policy level.

As part of the LEADS track, Michelle conducted a research project last summer with Mimi Chau, a CU medical student, in conjunction with a local OB/GYN doctor to evaluate the availability of emergency contraception in Colorado and Wyoming. They collected and analyzed data on overall availability, cost, behind the counter status, and age restrictions by relentlessly contacting over 700 pharmacies in six weeks. Michelle and Mimi have the opportunity to present their data at the National American Public Health conference in New Orleans this month and at the National Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine conference in Los Angeles in March. Additionally, they are preparing a manuscript to publish in a national journal this year.


PA Education Leads to Research and Community Outreach

Pamela Donohue

Pam Donohue’s PA education has served as the launching point for her diverse career in research, education, healthcare, and community outreach. Pam was initially drawn to the CHA/PA program in 1979 in part due to its emphasis on working with the underserved. After graduation, she headed to the coast of Maine to practice in a small town. Despite the size of the town, her experiences there were varied as it served a large geographical area and was a stabilization center for patients transported to larger facilities. She loved the rural style of practice that was integrated into the community through home visits, community screenings, wellness education programs, and on-site coverage for area high school football games.

Pam was recruited from her job in Maine to join the step-down unit in the NICU at Johns Hopkins University. She provided primary care to very preterm infants and long-term developmental care for NICU graduates. After five years of this rewarding work, she became interested in clinical research. Her first research experience was on a randomized controlled trial of surfactant for respiratory distress in preterm infants-she was hooked. Her research has included the study of neonatal intensive care, high risk obstetrics, patient/family-provider communication and how it shapes treatment decisions, and ethical decision making in newborn and obstetrical care.

Pam did find herself limited when applying for research grants. She was disqualified from applying for grant money as she did not have a terminal doctorate degree. It was then that she opted to pursue her doctoral degree in Maternal and Child Health with an emphasis on research. Pam is currently an Associate Professor of Pediatrics in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and an Associate Professor of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Her 31 years of experience at Johns Hopkins has also entailed educating students and community involvement. Pam trains medical students, pediatric residents, neonatology and perinatal fellows, and masters and doctoral students in public health. “I hope I am encouraging medical providers to practice patient and family centered care, and to conduct research in a rigorous, economical, and thoughtful way.” Her involvement in the Pediatric Family Advisory Council as Staff Chair at Johns Hopkins enables her to interact with patients’ families, pediatric faculty, and staff to advise the Hospital administration on policies and programs to focus attention on patient and family centered care. Additionally, Pam remains closely connected to the PA profession through her involvement with the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA). She has been a member of the AAPA Professional Practice Council for several years and just finished a three year commitment as chair of the AAPA Professional Practice Commission.


Practicing Rural Medicine

Fran Schreiber

Fran Schreiber did not set out to make a career in rural medicine. She had planned a two year stay in Cheyenne Wells, CO after graduating from CHA/PA in 1994. Two years turned into twenty, spent at Keefe Memorial Hospital covering the ER as well as implementing a new outreach clinic and a women’s clinic. She fell in love with rural medicine and hasn’t looked back.Fran has seen lives saved as a result of a small town having its own hospital. She is able to care for underserved people in their own hometown, without having to travel hours for medical attention. Additionally, a rural setting has given her a great deal of autonomy as a PA where she has covered the ER by herself, treating everything from otitis media to stabilizing a critical case of Mosaic variegated aneuploidy syndrome.Fran is passionate about the PA profession as it enables her to make a difference in others’ lives every day. Treating the underserved throughout her career, she has traveled on multiple medical mission trips. She has also chosen to sow into the lives of future PAs by precepting CHA/PA students for over twenty years. “I am able to share my love of medicine and watch the students grow and learn with each new procedure and patient visit,” she notes about her time with students. Fran is continuing her work as a PA in a rural setting, now in Pagosa Springs, CO in a primary care clinic. Her passion to work with the underserved both locally and abroad has not dimmed, as she recently returned from a medical mission trip to Guatemala. She had the opportunity to care for people there who had not had access to healthcare for more than three months. Fran is optimistic about the future of the PA profession. She sees that the demand will continue to grow and that the PA profession has become widely understood and regarded within the medical field. “No one knows the new advances in medicine, but it will be phenomenal.”


Life Experiences Lead to PA School

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There have been so many influences in John Farho’s life that have led him to PA school. Growing up in West Africa as the son of missionaries, John learned at an early age to appreciate all he had and clearly saw all that he could give to others. He learned independence and self-sufficiency throughout his youth as he attended boarding school over six hours away from his parents in Cote d'Ivoire starting at the age of seven.
These attributes served him well later in life as he went on to join the army and became a combat medic. During his nine years in the army, he served two long missions in Iraq, where he cared for everything from immunizations to combat injuries for his platoon and infantry soldiers. He consulted with MDs or PAs for knowledge or medications as needed. John sees his time as a combat medic as the ultimate shadowing experience, which crystallized his interest in the PA profession.

John’s background has also taught him to manage stress as he faces competing priorities. This has proven especially helpful as John is married with a seven-month old daughter. Managing a personal life and PA school is challenging for anyone, especially when a young family is involved. His previous life experiences give him valuable perspective, and he actually feels the stress of PA school dims in comparison to previous life situations he has encountered.
As a PA student, John has found his instruction at the Center for Advancing Professional Excellence (CAPE) especially valuable. The CAPE is a full-service assessment and education center specializing in the use of standardized patients, teaching associates and simulators. CHA/PA students spend time at the CAPE throughout the three year program. John has found that working with actors at the CAPE to be one of the best aspects of his first year as a student. His interactions with actors have increased his confidence for his interactions with patients in clinic.
John has clearly seen the needs that exist in developing countries first hand, but feels just as passionate about the needs right here in Denver.


My Experience in Peru

Mathilde Peru

CU-Peru is a student-run non-profit that holds trainings for community health workers in the Loreto Region of Peru. These workers live in very remote villages located off of tributaries of the Amazon. Many of the villages are 5-18 hours by river from the nearest clinic. The villagers survive from what they farm and fish so deciding to spend the gas money to go to the clinic is not an easy decision, and often a logistical impossibility. Each village has one or two unpaid community health workers who have had limited schooling, no formal training, and get no recognition for their work. Despite this, their hunger for knowledge and desire to serve as leaders in their communities are remarkable. During my trip we held trainings for 60 community health workers, teaching a variety of subjects including first aid, women’s health, and diarrhea/respiratory illnesses. I was extremely impressed by all of the hard work they put in and how well they were able to adapt to the challenges we presented them with.

Throughout my time in the Loreto region and its villages, I also adapted to the challenges that the Amazon presented me with. I learned to appreciate the simple joys of: taking bucket showers at the edge of the river without getting bitten by piranhas, playing card games in the light of the citronella candles to keep away the mosquitos, being greeted with fried plantains when visiting people’s homes, learning to kick the latrines before sitting down to scare out the bats, and best of all, making friends with the children who became our protectors from tarantulas threatening to fall on our hammocks as we slept. I have come back to the U.S. with a new appreciation of the situation in which the community health workers are practicing and the sacrifices they make to provide for their communities.

Mathilde Sullivan
Class of 2015

Changing Careers and the Push for PA LeadersTNeillsmall

Travis Neill, CHA/PA Class of 2009, didn’t always want to be a PA or to work in medicine at all. His first career was an 8 year path through the corporate finance world. Like others we’ve encountered through our program, Travis decided his life’s journey needed to take a compassionate turn in caring for others. While working in finance, Travis volunteered for the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) organization. The nationwide group with local chapters matches trained volunteers to child abuse and neglect cases with the purpose of advocating for and mentoring the involved children. This experience helping others drew Travis to the medical profession and led his decision to change careers. The choice to pursue his education specifically as a PA was made because of the wide range of opportunities it opened for him to be deeply involved in the care of others.

Most recently, Travis has been working in Geriatrics and as an Assistant Medical Director for a corporation that owns over 30 nursing homes. With a Physician Medical Director, he floats to around 12 different facilities helping with medical oversight which includes chart reviews, antibiotic stewardship efforts, psychiatric medication reviews, and quality assurance projects. He holds board positions on both the Colorado and American Medical Director Associations. This leadership position is very meaningful to Travis because (in the spirit of a true trailblazer) it took years of hard work and a few rejections to convince someone to give him the opportunity. As a PA, he frequently works to counter views that director positions are only suited for physicians.

Travis looks back fondly at his time in the CHA/PA program. Meeting his wife of 11 years when he started the program in 2006, they now have an 8 year old daughter together. Halfway through PA school, Travis also injured his back in a ski accident and gratefully recalls how his classmates went above and beyond to assist him when he needed surgery. Whether it was moving couches into the classroom so he could lie down for exams or bringing food to him as he recovered, the spirit of family in the program truly showed up for him.

Travis hopes his legacy in medicine as a PA is one that challenges the status quo for what “typical” PA roles look like. In the name of providing the best care for his patients, he is motivated to be a part of the solution to the challenges the medical community faces. In his words: “Now that I have been a physician assistant for 10 years, I can say unequivocally that my worst days as a PA are better than my best days working in finance.”


A Career Driven by Purpose

“You can’t change the whole world, but you can change the whole world for one person, and the next one and the next one.” Those IMG_1794are the words that have served to inspire the lifestyle and practice of CHA/PA Alum and Preceptor, Tracey Wall. The words were spoken to her by the Medical Director aboard a hospital ship off the coast of Africa through the Mercy Ships organization. After practicing in Family Medicine on dry land for 5 years, Tracey and her family made the decision to move aboard the ship together where they lived and worked for the next 4 ½ years. She describes the years she spent with colleagues on the ship as an amazing experience because they were able to help save the population who were dying from unmet surgical needs. Witnessing hope reinvigorate the hopeless highlighted the privilege she lived with and in turn led her to feel thanks for the opportunity to be a part of these patients’ lives.

After returning to the US, Tracey resumed her work in Family Medicine where she enjoyed her role but lacked the same sense of purpose she felt when working with Mercy Ships. Through speaking    with her supervising physician who was the only X-waivered provider in the entire region, she decided to get her certification as-well and work to treat those struggling with addiction. Training to work with patients holding this burden reignited the flame of deeper purpose Tracey had been seeking. For the next 3 years she balanced work at a Suboxone clinic in addition to patients at the Family Medicine clinic. Last fall, a clinic called Providence Recovery specializing in addiction opened in her community and she was approached with the opportunity to provide Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) to patients at this clinic. Tracey decided to accept the offer and she has been working solely in addiction medicine since December of 2019.

Citing her mother who was a nurse as probable inspiration, Tracey has always wanted to work in medicine. In college she initially pursued her education in Physical Therapy but soon changed her mind after a visit to Mali in West Africa. The severe medical shortages she witnessed on her visit inspired her to change paths and pursue a career as a PA instead. The CHA/PA program, the medical community at large, and the countless patients she has helped are undeniably so grateful that she did.

 


 

Lorrie Kehmeier: Longtime Preceptor, Alum & Provider

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As the 4th PA in Northern Colorado and an early CHA/PA grad (1984), Lorrie Kehmeier is no stranger to breaking new ground in the PA world. A current preceptor to our students at the Youth Clinic in Ft. Collins, Lorrie is a long-standing pillar in our students’ clinical education and a much appreciated ally to our program.

Starting as a fresh grad in a world where most physicians had never even heard of a PA, Lorrie found herself fortunate to have made connections during her clinical time as a student. Thrilled to have found a job at a time when they were scarce in the new profession, Lorrie joined the Youth Clinic team in Ft. Collins after graduating and has continued to work there since. From her humble beginnings as a fresh PA working in Northern Colorado, she also proudly witnessed and contributed to the incredible growth of the Youth Clinic. Starting out as a practice with one office and 5 providers, the clinic has grown to include 4 offices, an urgent care, and 21 providers. Lorrie describes the expansion as a good problem but also a challenge.

Continuing to pay it forward as a preceptor, Lorrie does not cease to inspire curiosity and foster learning in our students every day. She reflects fondly on her own time as a CHA/PA student on rotation at University Hospital where she did “well baby” rounds and had to learn to read a mercury thermometer from a mom of 3. CHA/PA is fortunate to partner with Lorrie as an educator and clinician and looks forward to witnessing her developing legacy in pediatrics!


A Career in Advocacy

Ann Davis

Congratulations to Ann Davis, 1979 CHA/PA grad, on her retirement this year from her position as the AAPA (American Academy of Physician Assistants) Vice President of Constituent Organization Outreach and Advocacy. Preceding her 24 years at AAPA, Ann also worked as a pediatric PA in California & Arizona, and spent time as a CHA/PA Faculty member.

Ann’s roots in her medical career began in a small northern Colorado town called Sterling where she was a full-time student at the local community college. In Sterling she worked as a nurse’s aide on medical/surgical services, in a level one nursery, and in post-partum service. Ann realized at that time that she did not come from a family of physicians and found it challenging to wrap her head around the financial and academic burdens that came with medical school. Describing the PA profession as being invented exactly for her, Ann found a home in the CHA program which enabled her to pursue the career she desired in Pediatrics.

Like other early CHA grads, Ann is familiar with participating in many “firsts.” A couple examples are that she was the first PA in Flagstaff, Arizona and also the first woman to serve as President of the Arizona State Association of PAs. Ann hopes that the legacy she has left in her career prior to retirement had a positive impact on the state laws governing PA practice and consequently improving care for their patients.


Alumni Receives AAPA Award

Ted

An accomplished member of the PA community, Ted Ruback (CHA/PA class of 1979) has recently been selected as the recipient of the AAPA Eugene A. Stead Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award for 2019. Retired in 2016, Ted has had a long history in PA education with achievements spanning from Founding Director of the first PA program in Oregon at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) PA program to PAEA advocacy, –including serving as President of the Board. He was also involved in the development of CASPA & Chair of the CASPA advisory committee, Chair of AAPA’s Education Council, site visits for ARC-PA, Chair of the PA Committee of the Oregon Medical Board, and many other invaluable contributions to the profession.

Self-described as always having been interested in a medical career and specifically pediatrics, Ted’s extensive PA journey was established at a career fair in 1975 where he learned of the profession and the CHA/PA program specifically. Attending with a “junior partner” as his mentee through the “Partners” program, which connects Colorado youth to adult mentors, Ted unexpectedly discovered his own career match. After deciding CHA/PA aligned perfectly with his professional goals, he applied to the program and this year marks his 40th year as a Physician Assistant. Following his graduation in 1979, Ted’s career began by working for a pediatrician in a small rural Washington State multidisciplinary clinic. He then moved on to work at a large HMO in Atlanta, Georgia where he also started his academic ventures by guest lecturing for the Emory PA program.

As an integral part of the development of PA education with contributions spanning nationally, Ted describes his most gratifying moment to be his time as Founding Director of the OHSU PA Program. During his 22 year tenure at the school, he enriched the lives of 576 graduates and the OHSU PA Program was listed by US News & World Report as among the top 10 PA programs in the nation in its very first year of eligibility. Having touched the lives of so many providers himself, Ted reminisces on his own role models from his time in PA school: “Throughout my entire career I have benefited from the teachings of my early mentors and role models. I recall as if it were yesterday, sitting with my fellow classmates on the floor of Henry Silver’s office listening to his every word while he generously shared “pearls” of wisdom with us.”

Celebrating 50 years of caring for our communities this year, CHA/PA congratulates Ted on receiving this award from AAPA and thanks him for his contributions to our program legacy.


CHA/PA Alum & Ally: Linsey Weller

Linsey Weller pic

Linsey Weller is an alumni, preceptor, and well established ally to the CHA/PA Program. Involved in many areas including guest lecturing for our PA students, facilitating small group clinical discussions, and assisting in admissions interviews, she is a long-standing partner in cultivating the education of our students and shaping the future of the PA profession in Colorado. Currently serving as a Pediatric Hospitalist for Children’s Hospital Colorado, her work days are also a dynamic mix of responsibilities including caring for healthy newborns, complex medical inpatients, and most recently- coordinating PA students for the Yellow Team of the hospital medical wards.

Before taking the dive into PA school, Linsey worked as a research assistant in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati. It was here that she was co-author to a publication in the Arthritis and Rheumatism Journal of the American College of Rheumatology. It was also at this position that she learned of the PA profession and decided to return to Colorado upon acceptance to the CHA/PA Program. Linsey states “I knew that the PA profession was for me because I value the connection with people and every encounter is a valuable connection and a chance to educate another person to better themselves or their children.”

As a fresh CHA/PA graduate in 2005, her first position was working at Clinica Campesina in family medicine for 3 years, however she knew her heart was calling her to pediatrics. Following her first position, she moved to Advanced Pediatric Associates in Aurora, CO where she subsequently spent 9 years cultivating and developing her skills as a PA caring for infants, toddlers and adolescents. Linsey expresses that she hopes to be perceived by her patients as a friendly face, a close listener to their concerns, and an active participant in their medical decision-making processes.

As a self-described life-long learner, Linsey explains that she combats the inevitable plateaus reached in any career by challenging herself to “be more” and staying motivated to keep learning. This attitude of consistently challenging herself and breaking new ground is apparent in her current position where she was hired as the first PA in the Division of Hospital Medicine at Children’s Hospital Colorado. She hopes her legacy will leave a trail that makes hiring a PA a point of pride for the medical community as a whole.


Children's Hospital Colorado Pediatric Neurology Advanced Practice Provider

Stephanie Shea1

An accomplished member of our CHA/PA alumni family, Stephanie Shea is a Physician Assistant currently working in Pediatric Neurology at the Children’s Hospital Colorado Pediatric Neurofibromatosis Clinic as an Advanced Practice Provider (APP). Having been with the department for the past 8 years, her responsibilities span from the outpatient clinic and inpatient service to the procedure clinic for lumbar punctures (LPs). Her busy days are filled with administering intrathecal medications for spinal muscular atrophy as well as diagnostic LPs for pediatric patients. Having stepped into a leadership role at the clinic, she has also started to participate in outreach clinics on the Western Slope and some telemedicine as well.

Before attending PA school, Stephanie was always drawn to neuroscience and medicine. After studying Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology at Emory University, she struggled with which career path to pursue, but ultimately her love for medicine led her to the CHA/PA program and her current journey as a PA. And a journey it has been… In 2012 due to a bike accident, she suffered from several broken vertebra in her neck and back. Stephanie describes the experience as “a very challenging time that taught me a lot about myself and my network of support.” Fortunately, after taking a short-term disability leave of 6 months, she was able to return to work with a new perspective having been a patient on the other side of healthcare.

Drawing from this new perspective, Stephanie describes the most rewarding part of her work as a provider to be caring for patients. Her experience working with the research team for an intrathecal drug, Spinraza, to treat Spinal Muscular Atrophy has also given her a unique front row seat to see spectacular progress in her patients. Since the drug has been approved, she has enjoyed the privilege of having the ability to make a difference in the lives of pediatric patients and their families who previously had very limited options.

As the lead APP in Neurology, the legacy she hopes to leave behind in medicine is through mentoring other APPs in her group and establishing a robust education and onboarding process for her fellow providers. By observing her personal experiences and continued motivation to provide the very best care for patients, the CHA/PA program takes pride in graduates such as Stephanie.


When Passion and Career Meet

Lynsay MacLaren_Workplace_PS

After completing her Master's of Public Health, Lynsay MacLaren felt something was missing. She was looking for more experience and education in clinical medicine. Enter the CHA/PA program, she graduated from CU with her Master's in Physician Assistant Studies in 2010 and has been making an impact ever since. Lynsay started working at Whitman-Walker Health in Washington, D.C. right after graduation. At Whitman-Walker she works closely with LGBT and HIV positive patients providing primary care and works as a research clinician. Whitman-Walker is a part of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) which conducts studies on HIV and Hep C.

Lynsay was drawn to the PA profession because of her interest in studying infectious diseases and providing care to patients with HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. Working with a diverse population does present challenges. Lynsay explains, “A challenge in regard to transgender care specifically is the lack of clinical studies in regard to this population. Much of what we do has no science behind it. The population is also very marginalized and can be treated [unfairly] in other medical centers so it is nice for us to be a welcoming and safe space.” Lynsay enjoys helping people and finding her niche as a PA within the research field.

Lynsay explains the impact her work has had on her life, “being a PA I have met so many people from different walks of life. I have had to learn over the years how to best deal with people with many different issues—be it mental issues, substance abuse, etc. I think that overall has changed the way I view the world and interact with people in general.”


A Career Dedicated to the Underserved

Gravlin

Julia Gravlin entered the Physician Assistant profession in 1986, at a time where PA positions were difficult to find. Shortly after graduation, she sought out employment in Oakland, California, where most physicians were unfamiliar with PAs. She had to sell herself and the profession to break through, finding that her third year of clinical experiences were a major selling point. She ended up starting her career as a medical technologist in San Francisco where the AIDS epidemic was full blown. After a few months, Julia began her first position in pediatric medicine working both at a migrant farm clinic near San Jose and in a pediatric practice near Berkeley.

Julia moved on to pediatric emergency medicine, working at LA County USC Medical Center. This job ended up becoming her passion for over two decades – the USC Medical Center is an open door hospital for every uninsured and undocumented child in Southern California. “I have been able to see some of the rarest and most fascinating cases imaginable. I can honestly say that it never, ever got boring,” notes Julia.

She then decided to move on to the hospital-based county pediatric outpatient clinic, where she works today. This clinic provides care to a large population of medically, socially, and economically disadvantaged children. Julia loves that she is able to come along side of parents who are in a constant struggle to provide good care for their children. Many of the families she works with are challenged to care for their sick children while balancing the associated medical costs and full-time jobs.

Julia reflects back to her time at CHA/PA fondly, and especially appreciates the education she received on the psycho-social aspects of pediatric medicine and on physical and sexual abuse through CU’s Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect. This training enabled her to understand her responsibility as a provider to abused children and to work toward the best outcome for this population.


Specialized Education in Pediatric Critical and Acute Care

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Rachael Blea has known that she wanted to help others through medicine since she was a child. She had breathing issues which resulted in numerous doctors’ visits growing up, and her primary care doctor, in particular, left a big impression on her. She decided she wanted to emulate his sympathy and dedication in her own life. While volunteering at Open Bible Medical Clinic in Colorado Springs, she learned about the role of PAs and was hooked.

Interestingly, Rachael pursued International Trap Shooting at the Olympic level while pursuing her undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. She was a Resident Athlete at the Olympic Training Center from 2009-2014. She joined the CHA/PA class of 2017 a couple years after graduation. One of her biggest hurdles as a PA student has been balancing her family life with her studies. Her approach has been to focus in on finding effective study methods that optimize her learning so that she had time for her husband and step-daughter.

Rachael has chosen to specialize her education by participating in the Pediatric Critical and Acute Care longitudinal experience. This experience provides training to students in pediatric acute and critical care medicine throughout the three years of the program. Specialized instruction and clinical experiences with critical care physicians and physician assistants occur at Children's Hospital Colorado. This type of instruction can lead to careers in pediatric emergency rooms, intensive care units, and other acute pediatric care settings. Rachael has grown tremendously in her knowledge of critical care physiology, treatments, and management plans with extra exposure to this field. “It has been incredibly humbling to be part of the Pediatric Critical and Acute Care experience because it is the first one like it in the country. The CHA/PA program did an outstanding job creating such a well-collaborated experience.”

As Rachael looks toward her graduation this spring, she plans to pursue pediatrics in some capacity. Until then, she is gathering further exposure to various fields in her third year of clinical rotations while enjoying backpacking, mountain biking, skiing, and a day at the range when she can.


Military Service Leads to PA School

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“My deployment to Afghanistan would become the best and worst experience of my life.” Jason Leehan had vast experience treating everything from minor issues as a cold to traumatic amputations while serving in the Army. As a combat and flight medic, he spent time both in the U.S. and two tours in Afghanistan caring for the needs of his platoon, foreign soldiers, and local citizens. He was commonly independently treating people in remote locations while trying to keep up with medical education. Along the way, he encountered PAs both in his military service and while working in an ER that guided his interest in the PA profession.
Jason’s drive to be part of something bigger and caring for the sick and injured compelled him to apply to PA school and join the CHA/PA class of 2018. Thus far, he has most enjoyed filling in his medical knowledge as a student and better understanding the application of medicine. CHA/PA students have clinical experiences in all three years of the program. Jason has found blending his didactic education with clinical experiences has enabled him to directly apply his education in the clinical setting each year of the program. Additionally, students have access to the CAPE (Center for Progressing Professional Excellence), where they interact with standardized patients and high fidelity mannequins in simulation rooms. The CAPE has increased his confidence in clinical settings.
Despite the challenge of balancing his education with his personal life, he finds time to golf, ski, hike, and take advantage of all Colorado has to offer.


Serving Children with Infectious Disease

Heather Heizer pic

Heather Heizer, a 2008 CHA/PA graduate, has had an interest in healthcare as long as she can remember. Her sister was diagnosed with Type I diabetes as an infant and her mother is a nurse, so she understood the importance of quality healthcare even as a young child. Before joining PA school, Heather spent several years as a lab researcher at National Jewish Health working on projects associated with tuberculosis and staphylococcus. While enjoying her research experience, Heather ultimately felt drawn to a profession with more human interaction and set her sights on PA school.

Since graduation, Heather has worked at The Children’s Hospital Colorado in the Department of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. She has always had a passion for microbiology so this field, coupled with her love for working with children, is a perfect fit. The patients she sees most commonly have fevers of unknown origin, osteomyelitis, brain abscesses, fever in the return traveler, post exposure prophylaxis, and a variety of other infectious etiologies. She also precepts CHA/PA students and finds that teaching keeps her current as well as strengthens her skills. “I try to teach the students to enjoy the journey, to have fun, and to make the most out of any learning experience they are in because ultimately, the experience is what you choose to make it.”

The field of infectious disease also presents its challenges. Heather works with victims of sexual assault soon after the exposure. While difficult, she feels this gives her the opportunity to “offer kindness, compassion, and some hope in extremely horrible circumstances." Additionally, she sees children who are terminally ill or in a later stage of their disease. Her goal with these young patients is to provide some joy and laughter while sharing a painful journey. Heather finds that children are so resilient and uninhibited, and despite the demands, she feels honored to serve this population.

Ultimately, Heather can sum up her love of working with patients and their families through her favorite Emerson quote: “To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”


A Chinese Doctor Pursuing the PA Profession

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Howard He had a lot of unique experiences before joining CHA/PA. He attended Wuhan University in China and practiced as a medical doctor at Jingmen Hospital for several years. After moving to the US, he completed a biotechnology master’s degree at Texas A&M, which led him to a medical researcher position at Houston Medical Center. He enjoyed the field of research, but longed to return to clinical patient care. Howard started to volunteer at the hospital to garner exposure to various fields, which is where he learned of the PA profession.

Howard began his PA education journey in June 2014. He has experienced some challenges in clinic as a non-native English speaker. It has become easier over time, but the move from China to the US with vastly different cultures and languages was difficult. He sees his third clinical year as a wonderful opportunity to grow in his communication skills.

Howard also manages to balance his time between his family and PA school. As a father of two boys, Jeremy and Jonathan, he has had to work hard at devoting time to both areas. He has found tremendous support through his family as well as his classmates. He notes, “When our class goes through a hard time, our friendships become more solid.”

Howard's father died of gastric carcinoma when he was teenager, so he is certain he would like to help people through the painful diagnosis of cancer. He hopes to work in an oncology unit at a hospital or large clinic.


Exploring the Field of Hospitalist Medicine

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Sarah Witowksi initially pursued her passion for medicine by working as a clinical research coordinator with breast cancer patients. While helping women join clinical trials at the University of Colorado, she had the opportunity to interact with a variety of health professionals. It is through this experience that Sarah realized that she wanted to be more involved in the medical decisions of patients and that the PA route best fit her goals.
CHA/PA’s program is unique in that students start clinical rotations their first year and end in their third year with ten, one-month rotations. During her third year as a student, Sarah spent a month rotating with an internal medicine physician. This rotation sparked her interest in the field of hospital medicine, so she was excited to learn about the hospitalist training fellowship at the University of Colorado Hospital.
Sarah began her one-year fellowship after graduating in May 2015. The fellowship exposes her to patients in a variety of settings from the general medicine floor to ICU, ED, and specialties such as neurology. Sarah loves the challenge of working with patients with medical conditions that she has only learned about in class, or even conditions that she has never heard of. The most challenging part of her position has proven to be setting up the correct care for each patient after they leave the hospital in conjunction with the case workers. It is essential that patients receive the correct follow-up labs and appointments. Despite the challenges, Sarah loves it. “When I am getting ready to discharge a patient from the hospital and they give me a hug and say thank you – it makes me feel like this is where I am supposed to be.”


A Graduate's Passion for the Underserved

Waskey Austin

Austin Waskey, Class of 2013, tried to ignore his nagging desire to practice medicine. He was teaching high school science for over four years, when he decided it was time for action. He spent the next four years continuing to teach, while working on his PA application and prerequisite courses. He was accepted into the CHA/PA program the summer of 2010 and has never looked back. Austin initially planned on attending medical school to practice as a family physician. Yet, after volunteering at hospitals and medical offices, he learned more about the PA profession and realized that it was a better fit for him.

The CHA/PA program offers various tracks, one of which is the CU Unite track. The CU Unite track is designed for students who are committed to serving the uninsured and those with limited access to health care in urban areas. Austin’s participation in the track enabled him to learn Spanish, gain exposure to underserved healthcare, and complete more clinical rotations in a family practice setting. Additionally, he was able to interact with a community of like-minded faculty and students.

Austin has worked at the Stout Street Health Center since graduation. He is passionate about caring for the poor and underserved and is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to care for them in that setting. The Stout Street Health Center provides primary care to homeless adults and children. This population tends to have a very high rate of mental illness, substance abuse, and childhood trauma.

Austin especially values the integrated team of providers at Stout Street. He works with a doctor, nurse, dental hygienist, behavioral health provider, and psychiatrist. CHA/PA’s mission is in action with a graduate passionate to serve in an underserved setting. “As a PA student, I learned that I am drawn to helping the poor and underserved. I find it fulfilling and exciting. I have never been bored at work. Never.”


Balancing Family and PA School

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“Don’t let anything hold you back.” That is the advice that Geoff Slater, Class of 2015, would give to individuals considering PA school. He has had additional challenges on his time over the last three years that many PA students have not – two beautiful little girls. Balancing family with PA school can be tough, but his experience testifies that it can be done. Geoff goes to the mountains most weekends and spends a lot of time with his kids, including nightly dance parties with his daughters before bedtime.

In addition to his family, a major source of support for Geoff has been his fellow classmates. He notes, “I would not have made it this far without them. We are our own built in support system.” Students form tight connections during their three years at CHA/PA, and beyond. Geoff had the opportunity to work with fellow students in an area of special interest to him, healthcare improvement. Geoff and classmate Karen Wilson served on the steering committee for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) Open School. The Open School focuses on empowering students to be agents for change in healthcare. Geoff especially appreciates that the IHI examines healthcare as a system, and works to address flaws in the system, rather than assigning individual blame.

Geoff has set his sights on working in family medicine, internal medicine, or pediatrics. His passion for the profession is further fueled by his sense of fulfillment as his service as a PA will help alleviate the physician shortage, especially in primary care.


Reflections of a 2nd Year Student

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Amy Buck, Class of 2016, had initially planned on a career as a physician. It was not until her grandfather was hospitalized while she was in her undergraduate degree that she was exposed to the PA profession. She followed up by researching the PA profession, and the associated opportunities, and decided that the PA path was for her.

Amy has had various experiences that have solidified her passion for the underserved and rural communities. Having grown up in a town of 250 population in Montana, she plans to practice in primary care in a rural setting after graduation. Primary care in a rural setting will enable her to provide healthcare for a wide variety of people with a broad range of ailments. Additionally, she has participated in a medical mission trip to Rwanda which had a profound effect on her and her heart for underserved individuals both abroad and in the U.S.

Looking back on the last year and a half, Amy feels that the support of her classmates and faculty, her simulation experiences at the Center for Advancing Professional Excellence (CAPE), and her clinical rotations stand out as highlights of her time so far at CHA/PA. Clinical rotations, which start in the first year of the CHA/PA program, have challenged her to both study harder and also learn about the “art of medicine”. “Medicine is much more than examining, diagnosing, and treating patients; it is about the relationships that you foster while being a medical provider and how you help patients achieve total body wellness,” notes Amy.


A Passion for Advocacy

Michelle Gaffaney

Michelle Gaffaney was first prompted to explore the PA profession by her grandmother, an OB/GYN nurse. The more Michelle learned about the profession, the more she was certain that the PA profession, and CHA/PA in particular, was the right path for her. While challenged to maintain a balance between school and her personal life, she has found support through fellow students, faculty, and staff. She notes, “The program fosters a feeling of support for one another and everyone involved only wants the best for others. I think this is what separates our program from others across the country and has made my time here so enjoyable.”

Michelle has a passion for advocacy that she pursued long before joining the Class of 2016. Throughout her undergraduate education, she involved herself in groups dedicated to preventing sexual assault on college campuses as well as groups that worked to protect the reproductive rights of women. So, it was only natural that she was drawn to the LEADS track upon joining the CHA/PA program. LEADS stands for Leadership, Education, Advocacy, Development, and Scholarship. It is an interdisciplinary track within the School of Medicine focused on training healthcare professionals to advocate for the needs of underserved and disadvantaged patients. This track enables Michelle to gain the knowledge she desires to advocate for patients at an individual, community, and policy level.

As part of the LEADS track, Michelle conducted a research project last summer with Mimi Chau, a CU medical student, in conjunction with a local OB/GYN doctor to evaluate the availability of emergency contraception in Colorado and Wyoming. They collected and analyzed data on overall availability, cost, behind the counter status, and age restrictions by relentlessly contacting over 700 pharmacies in six weeks. Michelle and Mimi have the opportunity to present their data at the National American Public Health conference in New Orleans this month and at the National Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine conference in Los Angeles in March. Additionally, they are preparing a manuscript to publish in a national journal this year.


PA Education Leads to Research and Community Outreach

Pamela Donohue

Pam Donohue’s PA education has served as the launching point for her diverse career in research, education, healthcare, and community outreach. Pam was initially drawn to the CHA/PA program in 1979 in part due to its emphasis on working with the underserved. After graduation, she headed to the coast of Maine to practice in a small town. Despite the size of the town, her experiences there were varied as it served a large geographical area and was a stabilization center for patients transported to larger facilities. She loved the rural style of practice that was integrated into the community through home visits, community screenings, wellness education programs, and on-site coverage for area high school football games.

Pam was recruited from her job in Maine to join the step-down unit in the NICU at Johns Hopkins University. She provided primary care to very preterm infants and long-term developmental care for NICU graduates. After five years of this rewarding work, she became interested in clinical research. Her first research experience was on a randomized controlled trial of surfactant for respiratory distress in preterm infants-she was hooked. Her research has included the study of neonatal intensive care, high risk obstetrics, patient/family-provider communication and how it shapes treatment decisions, and ethical decision making in newborn and obstetrical care.

Pam did find herself limited when applying for research grants. She was disqualified from applying for grant money as she did not have a terminal doctorate degree. It was then that she opted to pursue her doctoral degree in Maternal and Child Health with an emphasis on research. Pam is currently an Associate Professor of Pediatrics in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and an Associate Professor of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Her 31 years of experience at Johns Hopkins has also entailed educating students and community involvement. Pam trains medical students, pediatric residents, neonatology and perinatal fellows, and masters and doctoral students in public health. “I hope I am encouraging medical providers to practice patient and family centered care, and to conduct research in a rigorous, economical, and thoughtful way.” Her involvement in the Pediatric Family Advisory Council as Staff Chair at Johns Hopkins enables her to interact with patients’ families, pediatric faculty, and staff to advise the Hospital administration on policies and programs to focus attention on patient and family centered care. Additionally, Pam remains closely connected to the PA profession through her involvement with the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA). She has been a member of the AAPA Professional Practice Council for several years and just finished a three year commitment as chair of the AAPA Professional Practice Commission.


Practicing Rural Medicine

Fran Schreiber

Fran Schreiber did not set out to make a career in rural medicine. She had planned a two year stay in Cheyenne Wells, CO after graduating from CHA/PA in 1994. Two years turned into twenty, spent at Keefe Memorial Hospital covering the ER as well as implementing a new outreach clinic and a women’s clinic. She fell in love with rural medicine and hasn’t looked back.Fran has seen lives saved as a result of a small town having its own hospital. She is able to care for underserved people in their own hometown, without having to travel hours for medical attention. Additionally, a rural setting has given her a great deal of autonomy as a PA where she has covered the ER by herself, treating everything from otitis media to stabilizing a critical case of Mosaic variegated aneuploidy syndrome.Fran is passionate about the PA profession as it enables her to make a difference in others’ lives every day. Treating the underserved throughout her career, she has traveled on multiple medical mission trips. She has also chosen to sow into the lives of future PAs by precepting CHA/PA students for over twenty years. “I am able to share my love of medicine and watch the students grow and learn with each new procedure and patient visit,” she notes about her time with students. Fran is continuing her work as a PA in a rural setting, now in Pagosa Springs, CO in a primary care clinic. Her passion to work with the underserved both locally and abroad has not dimmed, as she recently returned from a medical mission trip to Guatemala. She had the opportunity to care for people there who had not had access to healthcare for more than three months. Fran is optimistic about the future of the PA profession. She sees that the demand will continue to grow and that the PA profession has become widely understood and regarded within the medical field. “No one knows the new advances in medicine, but it will be phenomenal.”


Life Experiences Lead to PA School

Farho Family-13 crop

There have been so many influences in John Farho’s life that have led him to PA school. Growing up in West Africa as the son of missionaries, John learned at an early age to appreciate all he had and clearly saw all that he could give to others. He learned independence and self-sufficiency throughout his youth as he attended boarding school over six hours away from his parents in Cote d'Ivoire starting at the age of seven.
These attributes served him well later in life as he went on to join the army and became a combat medic. During his nine years in the army, he served two long missions in Iraq, where he cared for everything from immunizations to combat injuries for his platoon and infantry soldiers. He consulted with MDs or PAs for knowledge or medications as needed. John sees his time as a combat medic as the ultimate shadowing experience, which crystallized his interest in the PA profession.

John’s background has also taught him to manage stress as he faces competing priorities. This has proven especially helpful as John is married with a seven-month old daughter. Managing a personal life and PA school is challenging for anyone, especially when a young family is involved. His previous life experiences give him valuable perspective, and he actually feels the stress of PA school dims in comparison to previous life situations he has encountered.
As a PA student, John has found his instruction at the Center for Advancing Professional Excellence (CAPE) especially valuable. The CAPE is a full-service assessment and education center specializing in the use of standardized patients, teaching associates and simulators. CHA/PA students spend time at the CAPE throughout the three year program. John has found that working with actors at the CAPE to be one of the best aspects of his first year as a student. His interactions with actors have increased his confidence for his interactions with patients in clinic.
John has clearly seen the needs that exist in developing countries first hand, but feels just as passionate about the needs right here in Denver.


My Experience in Peru

Mathilde Peru

CU-Peru is a student-run non-profit that holds trainings for community health workers in the Loreto Region of Peru. These workers live in very remote villages located off of tributaries of the Amazon. Many of the villages are 5-18 hours by river from the nearest clinic. The villagers survive from what they farm and fish so deciding to spend the gas money to go to the clinic is not an easy decision, and often a logistical impossibility. Each village has one or two unpaid community health workers who have had limited schooling, no formal training, and get no recognition for their work. Despite this, their hunger for knowledge and desire to serve as leaders in their communities are remarkable. During my trip we held trainings for 60 community health workers, teaching a variety of subjects including first aid, women’s health, and diarrhea/respiratory illnesses. I was extremely impressed by all of the hard work they put in and how well they were able to adapt to the challenges we presented them with.

Throughout my time in the Loreto region and its villages, I also adapted to the challenges that the Amazon presented me with. I learned to appreciate the simple joys of: taking bucket showers at the edge of the river without getting bitten by piranhas, playing card games in the light of the citronella candles to keep away the mosquitos, being greeted with fried plantains when visiting people’s homes, learning to kick the latrines before sitting down to scare out the bats, and best of all, making friends with the children who became our protectors from tarantulas threatening to fall on our hammocks as we slept. I have come back to the U.S. with a new appreciation of the situation in which the community health workers are practicing and the sacrifices they make to provide for their communities.

Mathilde Sullivan
Class of 2015