The new face of medicine
In honor of National PA Week, get to know a few faces that make up the UF School of Physician Assistant Studies
Oct. 8, 2018 — In the 53 years since the nation’s first physician assistant program launched at Duke University, the PA profession has grown by leaps and bounds to become an integral part of the modern health care team. Today, there are 123,000 PAs practicing in the U.S., according to the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. PAs work in clinics and hospitals, in academic and military health care settings, and they travel outside of the U.S. to support improved health and health access for many patient populations.
Students at the UF School of Physician Assistant Studies, which relocated to its current home in the George T. Harrell, M.D., Medical Education Building in 2015, learn a collaborative and systems-based approach to medicine. Through an evidence-based exploration of clinical medicine coupled with the practice of real-life medical scenarios with the use of simulation, students graduate with the skills and experience they need to join the PA workforce.
In celebration of National PA Week, held Oct. 6-12, below are a handful of students, faculty and alumni of the UF School of Physician Assistant Studies who are dedicated to excellence in patient care.
For Dr. Nina Multak, returning to Gainesville to lead the UF School of PA Studies was a homecoming of sorts. After all, Multak, Ph.D., MPAS, PA-C,who now serves as the associate dean and Randolph B. Mahoney director of the school, began her academic career at UF. Throughout her years of experience as a clinician, educator and scholar, she has seen the PA profession evolve to meet the needs of the ever-changing health care landscape.
“Having PAs as part of a health care team means there are more people to listen to the patient’s needs and address them,” Multak says. “My favorite parts of being a PA are the opportunities for growth and the flexibility the profession provides on an academic, clinical and interpersonal level. We have abundant job opportunities, we’re able to achieve work-life balance and, as part of a health care team, we get to meet a lot of different people who help our patients — and us — move through life with a positive influence.”
Bridgette Caquatto always knew she wanted to pursue a career in medicine. As a young gymnast, she faced several injuries, multiple surgeries and countless hours of physical therapy but found comfort in being surrounded by health care teams who could help her get back on the mat. The Chicago native was recruited to UF’s gymnastics team and, after competing in two NCAA Championships alongside her sister, the All-American graduated with her bachelor’s degree and set her sights on becoming a physician assistant.
“Being a Gator gymnast wasn’t always easy, but it prepared me well,” says Caquatto, a first-year student in the UF School of PA Studies. “PA school is more mentally demanding than physically demanding like gymnastics was, but the long days are not too different. I learned many skills that have translated to PA school, like perseverance, communication, leadership and teamwork. It’s an honor to be part of this program. You’re surrounded by positive influences and people who are working toward the same goal: improving health. I’m looking forward to being a Gator PA representing UF out in the workforce, and I know I’ll be comfortable in my abilities because I trained here.”
For Hector Bird, being an emergency medicine physician assistant is not so different from flying a plane. The 2015 UF School of PA Studies graduate, who sees patients at Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast in Miramar Beach, Florida, spent four years as an airline pilot before changing career paths to join the ranks of the medical profession.
“The biggest thing I carry with me from my pilot experience is the focus on the team and the crew,” Bird says. “You can’t do it all yourself, especially in emergency medicine. It takes a large group of people to help a patient. You keep patients safe by keeping the lines of communication open and leveraging the support of the whole team.”
Second-year PA student Bassam Aysheh has known his future was in medicine since he was a child, but his path to the physician assistant profession was not a straight one.
“I always thought everyone who worked in a hospital was a doctor or nurse,” he recalls.
However, after speaking with friends and colleagues as an undergraduate student, Aysheh learned about the flexible and fast-paced career of a physician assistant. Ever since, Aysheh has worked hard toward achieving a career that will allow him to explore his diverse interests in both urgent care and dermatology. After Aysheh graduates this spring, he aims to work in emergency medicine at UF Health Shands Hospital.
“I want to give back to the school that gave me the chance to pursue my dreams,” he says.
After that, he plans to return to his hometown of Tampa and open his own practice. Long after he leaves the UF School of Physician Assistant Studies campus, one lesson will remain in Aysheh’s mind.
“Our professors have taught us that even though medicine is something we do daily, our patients aren’t always used to being patients,” he says. “We need to never forget to be mindful, empathetic, understanding and compassionate to provide the best care to our patients.”
UF School of PA Studies assistant professor Breann Garbas, DHSc, PA-C, began her career in academic medicine only two years and one month ago, but she’s already making big waves in her field. The first PA to win the Equal Access Clinic Faculty Service Award and the first PA to serve on the UF College of Medicine Faculty Senate, Garbas is passionate about the integral role of PAs on the modern health care team.
“My goal as a PA is to provide optimal patient care, and as PAs, we are uniquely poised to take the time to listen to our patients and to educate them,” she says.
Garbas’ passion for the profession is matched by the dedication exhibited by her students, who she says inspire her daily.
“They put their heart and souls into all they do. I’m inspired by their love for their patients and their love for each other,” she says. “When someone is struggling, their classmates will drop everything to do all they can to help out. It’s amazing.”
Kevin and Tracy Hollen
Tracy and Kevin Hollen — both alumni of what was formerly the UF College of Allied Health Professions and both current UF Health Shands practicing physician assistants — have shared two things in common for decades: their love for each other and their love for medicine. Tracy Hollen, PA ’86, works in the UF department of surgery while Kevin Hollen, PA ’87, works in the UF department of orthopaedics. They are proud of all they’ve accomplished at UF Health Shands since the 1990s.
“The philosophy has never changed, which is really cool and what has kept us in Gainesville,” Tracy Hollen says. “It’s about making sure that patients are well taken care of no matter their ethnicity, no matter their socioeconomic status. It’s about making sure that the patient is empowered to make decisions.”
Kevin Hollen says in the three decades since he and his wife have become PAs, the role of PAs within the health care team has expanded, allowing PAs to improve the quality of care given to patients. In their roles, the Hollens assist with surgical procedures, diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications and serve as primary health care providers.
“We have more time to talk to the patients and serve as advocates for excellent patient care,” Kevin Hollen says.