Sean Conroy, PA-C, always had an interest in medicine. That led him to study premed and to become a PA. But the native Nebraskan has recently added on a new professional title: author. PAs Connect spoke to Conroy about his journey as a PA who writes.
Where do you work and what is your specialty?
I specialize in primary care, and though I have worked in emergency departments in the past, nowadays, I am strictly an outpatient clinic PA.
My clinic in McCook, Neb., focuses on preventative health and keeping people healthy; though we happily treat acute illnesses as well. I also travel on occasion to other clinics.
What did you do before becoming a PA?
I spent a long time in college for one thing. I was a premed major at Chadron State in Chadron, Neb., and graduated in 2003. I was not accepted into medical school on my first try so I had a decision to make. I had my bachelor’s degree in biology and could go to grad school or the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) for a second bachelor’s degree—which is what I ended up doing.
I graduated from UNMC in 2004 with a degree in clinical laboratory science. I got engaged during school, so I took time after graduating to get married, and then, my first son was born.Then, I blinked, and I had been working in the lab at Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha for three years.
How did you decide to become a PA?
Working in the lab was fun, there were great people there; and it was a challenging job that requires quick thinking, more than a lot of people might believe. Nevertheless, I had a strong desire to be on the frontlines of medicine, administering the care, making the decisions instead of working behind the scenes helping direct them.
While I was a student at UNMC, my mentor had actually told me that I certainly had the intelligence necessary for the lab, but that my personality would be wasted anywhere but on the clinical front. He suggested PA school to me before I even graduated UNMC. After a few years in the lab, his words echoed in my head, so I began looking into PA school, and taking the few prerequisite college classes I was lacking.
I graduated in May 2010.
What do you like about your job and where you work?
The best part about my current position is that it gives me plenty of time to talk to each patient and to formulate the best possible plan of care. Furthermore, there is a strong focus on catching disease processes early: diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, etc. With this focus on early diagnosis and treatment, I really feel strongly that what I do every day is making a difference, changing lives and improving outcomes down the road.
Why did you decide to write a book?
In the introduction to my book, I talk about one patient specifically who really moved me and influenced me as I was on my clinical rotations. He was a war veteran facing pancreatic cancer, and he knew he was about to die. Taking part in his journey, but only to leave him behind to move on to the next rotation really stuck in my head for some reason.
As time went on after I became a certified PA, more and more of these patients from my clinicals would pop up in my head. These patients really molded me into the PA I am, and I feel their stories are moving. I cannot be the only clinician who feels this way about patient interactions. I just really felt a need to get the stories written down so that I could share them with the world. Furthermore, there are plenty of excellent books about internships and clinical rotations written by physicians, but there are none written by PAs.
I thought that perhaps by telling the story of my clinical experience in a book I might be able to help fill this void. Not that my story is any better than that of anyone else, but it does take place in a rural setting, so I thought it might be unique, if anything.
How long did it take for you to complete the book?
There were starts and stops, so it took longer than if I had just sat down and typed until it was done. It was at least three years. I started probably sometime in 2012, lost momentum and picked up again real strong in 2014. Some of the stories are of death and dying, of less than perfect outcomes. There is one where my preceptors were somewhat abusive.
After writing those stories, I felt it would help to step away from the keyboard before moving on to the next stories, as to not let bad stories dampen the mood of the good ones that followed.Overall, even though it took longer than I planned initially, I am glad I took my time to make sure each chapter and patient story was written properly.
Tell us a little bit about the book’s subject matter.
The book begins as I settle in the day before my first rotation in family practice in Chadron. The book is broken down into chapters, each telling the story of one rotation site. I did write it with footnotes so that not just medical professionals can read it. As far as content goes, there are stories of interesting patients, interactions with medical staff, especially preceptors, and even just some aspects of PA school in general, such as keenly selecting rotation sites to optimize your rotations and preparing for quarterly exams.
As the book progresses, the stories reflect my maturation as I go from one rotation to the next and gain confidence as time goes on. Each story is moving or humorous for one reason or another. As anyone in medicine can tell you, there is the equal chance of seeing tears of sadness or tears of mirth on any given day.
How did you fit in your writing schedule with your regular PA work schedule?
One year, I worked at a hospital 30 miles from my home, so I had to sleep onsite. This certainly afforded me time to work on the book as I could not stray too far away from the hospital, and if I was called in, it was easy to pick up writing again when I returned. Later on, I took my current position, which has no call, but does require some travel. Some of my stories were written down in airport terminals because of this. Finally, the winters in the Midwest get very chilly, and you have to find indoor activities or risk freezing to death. Being trapped inside gave me a nudge to open my computer and work on my book when the temperature dipped too low. This last winter was bitter enough that I was really able to focus on a second edit.
How is your search for a book publisher going?
I am currently actively seeking a publisher who is willing to take a chance on a new author. Just yesterday I did receive a possible route with a cooperative publisher, but I am still hoping to find a publisher that will take me using the traditional route. I have my friend Taylor who has experience as a copy editor putting the final polish on my book, so I do still have time to see if a traditional publisher will accept my work before signing the co-op contract.
Would you recommend writing as a way for PAs to achieve work-life balance?
Writing is definitely one of the ways I relax, as is reading. But for some people, having to write a paper or read a book is a chore. So, whatever works for you … For me, though, it is enjoyable and does help me relax. I do also enjoy golfing, tennis, hunting and fishing when the weather is warm. During the colder months, I play video games, watch Nebraska football (occasionally attending a game in Lincoln) and make candles. That is probably my most interesting hobby outside of writing. I guess I like creating interesting things: books and candles.