My first job was in emergency medicine at a busy trauma center. Shortly after being hired, I was appointed to an entry-level leadership position making the schedule. Literally no one else wanted the job, and why would they? I received no compensation, but I had a modicum of control over, and worked for the common betterment of, the ER PAs.
This came with a huge downside: covering the schedule when needed. Immediately, more responsibilities were heaped upon me. While I did not seek or even want these responsibilities, I did not shirk them. Eventually, titles were bestowed, worth was recognized and salary was marginally increased. Soon this position grew to involve many PAs and a substantial budget of millions of dollars.
But the greatest value was the original lesson learned: run to the void.
There are many functions that people don’t like to perform, and with good reason. Some are unpleasant, some painful, and others boring. But all are necessary, and one of the single best ways to be recognized as a leader—and a person of character—is to assume these responsibilities. Gravitate not away from but toward those jobs that are, for whatever reason, undesirable and unfilled.
A current best-selling book title describes this in two words, “lean in.” I prefer a more urgent term: run, but run toward and not away.
Healthcare is changing at a pace that is nearly impossible to comprehend. Traditional roles are disappearing and being replaced with entirely new jobs. Responsibilities are not simply morphing, but being completely transformed. Unmet needs are around each and every corner. Patients and employers are begging for people to fill those needs.
Run to the void and fill it. Get in sooner, not later, and become the leader in that role. If the need is in IT because of a new electronic health record, become that champion. Develop a patient-centered medical home, or become the champion for excellence in diabetes care in your practice. Be a leader and know that as a PA you absolutely have the necessary skill set.
As a PA, you were trained differently from anyone else in healthcare. First, you were educated in the team model. As a friend of mine says, “PAs were team long before team was cool.” Second, you are a trained Marine-equivalent. On your clerkships, you were dropped into a hostile environment, dug your foxhole, established a beachhead, learned the language, took care of the wounded and became skilled on the terrain. Four weeks after your initial landing, you were pulled out and sent elsewhere to do it all over again.
Charles Darwin opined, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.” Your training necessitated rapid change for you to survive and flourish, and you are likely the single-most responsive person on your healthcare team. You have been trained to accept and embrace change. You have been trained to run to the void and lead.
Your patients need you to run.
Lawrence Herman, PA-C, MPA, is AAPA’s president and a tenured associate professor and chair in the New York Institute of Technology Department of Physician Assistant Studies.
See also: Leading from the Front