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In this episode of “Victors in Grad School,” the host, Dr. Christopher Lewis, interviews Brittany Douglas, a physician assistant student at the University of Michigan Flint. The podcast focuses on the journey of students, alumni, and experts and how they find success in graduate school.

Brittany Douglas discusses her unique path to becoming a physician assistant. She initially worked as a surgical tech for 13 years and was inspired by the flexibility and variety of specialties that PAs can work in. Her experience in the operating room allowed her to build relationships with physicians and PAs, which motivated her to pursue a career in medicine.

The conversation delves into Brittany’s decision to become a physician assistant over a doctor. She emphasizes the shorter duration of education and training, allowing her to enter her career sooner. Her desire for a career change led her to explore PA programs.

As a non-traditional student entering PA school at 29, Brittany discusses the advantages of her prior clinical experience and master’s degree. She feels well-prepared for clinical rotations, particularly due to her familiarity with various medical procedures.

Brittany chose the University of Michigan Flint’s PA program due to its strong emphasis on community service, outreach, and engagement. The program’s focus on serving underserved communities aligned with her values.

She also describes her experience with a National Health Policy Fellowship and her work in advocating for healthcare policy changes. She shares her community advocacy project to educate PA students across Michigan about legislative topics related to their profession.

Brittany reflects on her graduate education and advises students to focus on foundational concepts such as physiology, anatomy, and pathophysiology. Understanding the root causes of diseases is crucial for success in medicine.

The episode concludes with a discussion of Brittany’s future career goals, which include a potential focus on cardiac surgery and cardiac ICU management.

The host encourages listeners to explore the graduate programs offered by the University of Michigan Flint and emphasizes the importance of foundational knowledge for future success in graduate school. Contact information for further inquiries is provided.

This podcast is brought to you by The Office of Graduate programs at the University of Michigan-Flint. If you’re still wondering about other things to consider when it comes to graduate school, you can also contact the Office of Graduate Programs at UM-Flint. We’re here to answer questions Monday – Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. EST. You can also find out more about the 50+ programs that the university has to offer here.

TRANSCRIPT

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Christopher Lewis [00:00:02]:

Welcome to the Victors in Grad School, where we have conversations with students, alumni and experts about what it takes to find success in graduate school. Welcome back to Victors in grad school. I’m your host, dr. Christopher Lewis, director of Graduate Programs at the University of Michigan, Flint. Really excited to have you back again this week. Every week I love being able to sit down and talk with you about the journey that you’re on. You could be at the very beginning just thinking about, do I want to do this grad school thing? You could be applying and knowing what you want to do, where you want to go, or some ideas of where you want to go. You could be in graduate school.

Christopher Lewis [00:00:45]:

But the thing that I love to talk with you about every week is how you find success in that graduate school journey. Because it is so important for you to be able to do whatever you can to be able to set yourself up right, to find success in that journey for yourself. Because that’s why you’re going through this. You want to be successful. You want to get that degree in the end and be able to take it, to hone your skills and take you into either that next step in your career, that new career, whatever it might be. And every week we bring you new guests, new people for you to learn from. All of these people have either gone through graduate school, are currently going through graduate school, and you have an opportunity to be able to learn and to grow from the experiences that they’ve had, know that no matter what area that they’re in, they’ve had to do similar things. So whether they’re in med school, law school, they’re getting an MBA, the curricular aspects are going to be a little bit different, but there are a lot of similarities as well in what you have to do.

Christopher Lewis [00:01:53]:

So this week we’ve got another great guest with us. Brittany Douglas is with us and Brittany is a physician assistant student at the University of Michigan Flint. She is in her last year. So right now we’re talking to her and she’s on her clinical rotations right now, taking all those skills that she’s been learning over the first two years in the program and putting them into practice. And I am excited to be able to hear her journey and for you to learn more from her. Brittany, thanks so much for being here today.

Brittany Douglas [00:02:22]:

Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

Christopher Lewis [00:02:24]:

I love that we are able to sit down and chat. And I guess first and foremost, I want to turn the clock back in time. I want you to kind of reflect back because at some point, whether it was in high school or your undergrad or prior to undergrad in some way, you made a choice that you wanted to go and become a physician assistant. Talk to me about that journey. And what you did to be able to really set yourself on that path, because I know that you do have a kind of a unique journey in regard to becoming a surgical tech, even before you were in your undergraduate experience, and that continued on through undergrad and now into graduate school. So talk to me about the journey and what made you finally decide that you wanted to become a physician assistant.

Brittany Douglas [00:03:17]:

Yeah, so I completed my surgical technology program in 2011. So 13 years that I’ve been a technologist, going on 13 years. I still work on the weekends, even in PA school, which is kind of outrageous, but I absolutely loved being in the or. I still love it all the different variety of cases and working in the Ors. I got to develop relationships with physicians and different specialties, of course, but always Pas. I see Pas in almost every specialty, and I love the flexibility of the degree. I love that they can go into any subspecialty they like, and if they start off in one and it’s not for them, or they want to try something different, they can, and so they move into a different one. And I just really appreciated that.

Brittany Douglas [00:04:00]:

And I love the relationships that Pas develop, both preoperatively intraoperatively and post operatively. They really knew the patients inside and out, and I think it was great to see how they built upon their relationship with them continuing, just speaking surgically. So for me, I was inspired by that, to continue to pursue medicine. So that’s what inspired me to be a PA.

Christopher Lewis [00:04:24]:

So one of the things that I think sometimes people think of when they’re going through their undergrad is they may go in thinking, I want to be a doctor, and then at some point, they learn about becoming a physician, nor they’ve known about it, and they choose that path instead. I don’t know if at any point if you struggled with that decision, and if so, what made you decide that physician assistant was the route that you wanted to go versus going down the route of medical school and maybe becoming a surgeon in that regard?

Brittany Douglas [00:04:59]:

Yeah, absolutely. It’s definitely something that I had to sit down with myself and have a conversation and be like, which is the better path for me? And so I already have a master’s degree in biology, and I worked in pharmaceutical research. I was around the age of 29 when I started to debate, like, what do I want to go back to school for? I definitely want to be more involved with medicine. I really miss that aspect of my life. And for me, I really appreciate the flexibility, again with Pas being able to go into multiple subspecialties and also being a nontraditional student. I was 29 when I applied. So that being said, I didn’t really want to do four years of medical school, five years of residency, a fellowship, and really be like 40 years old when I’m starting my career. So the shorter duration of education and training for Pas was also appealing to me.

Christopher Lewis [00:05:46]:

You talk about the fact that when you started your program, you’re 29 years old, you didn’t want to wait until you were 40. But as a 29 year old, you have a mixture of individuals in your program. Talk to me about that and what it’s like to be maybe a little bit older in the program and also having a lot more experience coming into a PA program and how that’s helped you in the program itself.

Brittany Douglas [00:06:14]:

I think my background certainly helps me, right. Because I’ve been in the procedures. I’ve seen several of these procedures where a lot of people, they’ll hear a cole cystectomy and they kind of have to imagine what that looks like. And I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of them. And so it’s definitely an advantage in that aspect that when we’re learning about these different things interoperatively that I have, that kind of roundabout. However, the medication management and the longevity management of these patients as a surgical tech, that’s not something I experienced. So I still continue to learn. Don’t get me wrong, there’s so much involved with PA school.

Brittany Douglas [00:06:50]:

But I think that being 29, having a prior career, having lots and lots of clinical patient contact hours served me in a great way. That when you’re learning. About medication management plans or you’re learning a patient is presenting with appendicitis or colysystitis. I know in my mind what these procedures look like for these patients and the recovery for them.

Christopher Lewis [00:07:09]:

Now, I mentioned that you are a third year student at the University of Michigan Flint. So you went through your undergraduate work down in South Carolina. You got your bachelor’s degree, you went and got a master’s degree in biology. You had that career. At some point, you made that decision that, yep, I’m going to be making that next switch, becoming a physician assistant. And there’s many physician assistant programs that are out there, not only in Michigan, but throughout the United States. You were living in other states and had a lot of different experiences. Talk to me about why you chose to attend the University of Michigan Flint.

Brittany Douglas [00:07:51]:

Yeah, this is one of my favorite questions. I’m from Michigan, but I lived in South Carolina, I lived in Florida, and I did research in New Jersey for about two years and then applying to PA schools. I wanted to be very cognizant of community service is very important to me. So especially knowing that Pas right now are making such an impact in underserved and rural communities. So finding a program that was tailored to that, that really leverages the importance of giving back to the community, community service, outrage, engagement, those things adversity. It’s very important. And so University of Flint’s program, university of Michigan Flint’s program really, really stood out to me in that aspect. Right.

Brittany Douglas [00:08:30]:

We do all kinds of work locally, but we also do things just for the children in the community. We go to Sylvester Broom Empowerment Village, and during your Didactic year, you’ll go there quite often and get to interact with the kids and build a relationship with them. And I think that it’s so important to remember the community that you serve. So of course, being a Michigan native, I know that Flint is an underserved community. It seemed like a win win for me.

Christopher Lewis [00:08:56]:

Now, you found success in your graduate school journey. What did you have to do, seeing that you already had one master’s, you had a career as well prior to coming in, but what did you really have to do for yourself to be able to set yourself up for success in the program? But also, what did you have to do to maintain that success throughout the program?

Brittany Douglas [00:09:17]:

100% time management is really important. And being a prior graduate student, I had kind of honed in on what study techniques work best for me. And the way that you study in graduate school is much different than the way you study in undergrad. In graduate school, you’re expected to do some self study. You’re expected to kind of delve into topics that you don’t necessarily get a good sound on while you’re in lecture and in undergrad, they’re a little bit more diligent about making sure that you understand these topics with homework assignments and things like that versus in a graduate program. Here’s the information. This is what you need to know. And you do an examination to test your level, like your metric of understanding.

Brittany Douglas [00:09:52]:

So time management is invaluable, and I think that really honing in on what study techniques are the most productive for you, whether you’re auditory or visual. Do you rewrite notes? Are charts helpful? Do videos help you? And again, I tell a lot of students, don’t rely heavily on ten different sources. Sometimes that’s almost a disadvantage. Too much information from too many different places can be more confusing. Try to find one or two things that work really well for you. Focus on those and leverage them that way.

Christopher Lewis [00:10:21]:

I know that recently you were also awarded a National Health Policy Fellowship, and that was big news. So tell me about this fellowship and what that means for you and what that means for your future career.

Brittany Douglas [00:10:37]:

Health Policy Fellowship really focuses on different health care bills or laws that need to be put in place to better provide care to our patients. Whether that’s affordability, whether that’s accessibility, whether it’s limitations on the way Pas can prescribe. Kind of a silly thing. I’ll bring up for an example Pas. We manage diabetic patients, we manage their medications, we order labs to manage their diabetes. But interestingly, we’re not allowed to certify that they need diabetic shoes, which is kind of a silly thing, right? So those types of things and what Health Policy Fellowship does is it teaches you how to meet with these different lawmakers, how to meet with their staff, and how to get these bills kind of put in motion. Again, community service is really important to me. And so seeing the deficits in the community, how can we improve effectiveness, cost, how can we lower the cost for patient care and increase accessibility for patients? All of these things are like the key components of what bills in a bill, like being, whether it’s with the House or like the Senate, either way, moving these bills up so that we can get them passed.

Christopher Lewis [00:11:41]:

I know as a part of that program, you attended a workshop recently on policy and advocacy. But you also, as a part of that, were developing a community advocacy project that you’re working on. Talk to me about that and what you learned as a part of that workshop and what you are planning to do as a part of your project.

Brittany Douglas [00:12:03]:

So the workshop, we went over several different bills. We went over different things that are currently being talked about, things that they’re trying to propenciate, like into law. I actually went to Capitol Hill in Lansing and did some advocacy work there with some local senators and delegates. And then I went to Washington DC just two weeks ago and met with Staffords From, Debbie Stabenog, Gary Peters, Dan Kilde, which is like Genesee County, met with all of them to discuss these same bills with them and express the importance and how these can prove to be an advantage overall for patient care. That’s the most important thing. So I have a really cool project, and it’s hard because I can’t give you all the details just yet, but I am actively working with some great leaders and people in the health policy arena as far as like, legislative topics for physician assistance. And I’m developing a way for all eleven PA schools. There’s eleven PA schools in Michigan that matriculate over 500 PA students annually.

Brittany Douglas [00:12:57]:

And I think that it’s really a missed market because being a new PA student, you don’t necessarily understand what laws are being passed or what restrictions there are in practice, different obstacles or challenges that we can incur in practice. And so this is kind of going to be a group where students from all of these schools can get together and learn, what are the restrictions, what can I do to get involved, how do I make a change, how do I impact my community in a positive way?

Christopher Lewis [00:13:20]:

So you are out on your clinicals right now, and you’re seeing that light at the end of the tunnel. So I guess two questions. First and foremost, you’re on your clinicals and you’re utilizing what you’ve learned in the classroom over the last two years. How do you feel? Do you feel prepared? Are you ready for the work that you’re doing? Or are there pieces that you’re like, I wish I had known this prior to being in the clinical time, and then also as you think about your future, where are you headed?

Brittany Douglas [00:13:51]:

Yeah, so I think Didactic year, which is your year with your books, that’s the year you sit down and you learn all the materials. When you’re in Didactic year, you learn it in modules. So cardiac, pulmonary, GI. And so when you learn them broken up in segments like that, you’re really kind of mastering that one particular topic. When you go into clinical year, you have to take all the information that you’ve learned and really tie it all together. How do I manage these patients? How do I help this person? And that’s really important to translate it that way that you can’t look at it like, oh, my textbook says this because all patients look different, right? So I feel unbelievably well prepared. Like, I do really well sitting down with patients and developing management plans and building rapport with them and really kind of delving deep into getting to know them better. I think the program has done an excellent job of preparing me for clinical rotations.

Brittany Douglas [00:14:38]:

Where do I think I’m going to go from here? I did my elective in cardiothoracic surgery. I really enjoyed that. It’s pretty challenging. And cardiac ICU management is, of course, very challenging, and I’m heavily considering that option in my future.

Christopher Lewis [00:14:51]:

Well, with 13 years of experience in surge tech experience, I would guess that that makes a lot of sense that taking all that experience, the training that you’ve had in the past, and the years of patient care that you’ve been able to have and put it into the next level makes perfect sense. Now, as you look back at your graduate education, and I said it could be looking back at the biology degree now, your physician assistant degree, I’m sure that there are things that, as you look back, you say to yourself, if I had only known. And as you think about that, what are some tips that you might offer to other students, whether they’re going into a biology degree, a business degree, a physician assistant degree, whatever it might be that would help them to find success sooner?

Brittany Douglas [00:15:40]:

I would really put emphasis on the foundational concepts when I say that. I mean, like physiology, to understand the root cause, what is going on on a cellular or a molecular level for these people. This goes back to my molecular degree. Right, but that’s okay. When you start with a foundational, a really strong foundation, I understand what’s happening on a cellular level with this patient’s disease process. It allows you so much better to be like, oh, that’s why these treatment plans work for these patients. Or, oh, that’s why there’s a contraindication for this medication and this patient population. And so if you don’t have that basis of understanding whether it’s in anything, especially medicine, if you’re missing that really basic level of understanding of biology concepts, you’re kind of at a disadvantage because medicine cannot be mastered with memorization.

Brittany Douglas [00:16:30]:

You have to understand what is happening, what is the pathophysiology. I definitely put emphasis on pathophysiology anatomy. Anatomy is another one and really put in focus. And I know sometimes when you’re sitting in these classes, you’re like, oh, wow, this is super in depth. When I look at this. Do you really need to understand that? I remember learning about the cardiac cycle and thinking, do you really need to know all these things? Yes, you do. In order to clinically practice medicine, there’s a lot of things to focus on, and I would say the more time you spend with those foundational concepts and really, really mastering them, you’re only setting yourself up for success.

Christopher Lewis [00:17:06]:

Well, Brittany, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for everything that you’ve shared today. And I am looking forward to learning more about your success post PA school because I know that there is a ton of opportunities that await you beyond our program. And I just want to say thank you for being here today and for sharing this journey with us.

Brittany Douglas [00:17:29]:

Thank you so much for your time. I love sharing this. So happy to answer any questions.

Christopher Lewis [00:17:33]:

The University of Michigan Flint has a full array of masters and doctorate programs. If you are interested in continuing your education, whether you’re looking for in person or online learning options, the University of Michigan Flint has programs that will meet your needs. For more information on any of our graduate programs, visit our website to find out more. Thanks again for spending time with me as you prepare to be a victor in grad school. I look forward to speaking with you again soon as we embark together on your graduate school journey. If you have any questions or want to reach out, email me at flintgradoffice@umflint.edu.