The Path of a PA
See one, become one, come back and inspire others. It’s not the catchiest medical mantra, but for graduates of GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) Physician Assistant (PA) program, it has become a sort of post-graduate right of passage.
Each year, PA program alumni come back to campus to speak to students preparing for their rotation year and talk about their career choices and answer questions about the steps along the way. This February Jennie McKown, PA ’01, director of the PA Surgical Residency Program at John Hopkins University Hospital, found herself back in Ross Hall to discuss the route she took that ultimately led her to a career as a surgical PA.
“GW has one of the top PA programs in the country,” McKown told the audience. “Let me tell you, having seen PA from across the country as director of a PA residency program, GW students are top-notch; you are going to get the best education.”
The upstate New York native began her health care career as a fitness and cardiac rehabilitation specialist after earning her bachelor’s from Ithaca College. “While I was working in cardiac rehab,” said McKown, “I worked with several PAs who helped me administer stress tests.” The exposure perked her interest she recalled, “Low and behold, GW accepted me into the program. That was probably one of most exciting days of my life.”
A National Health Service Corp scholarship recipient during her days at SMHS, the award paid for McKown’s education and led her to a rural south Texas community of Pearsall after graduation in 2001, where she provided primary care at Hood Medical Clinic.
“I worked at three rural clinics, pretty autonomously,” said McKown. “It was pretty intimidating being a new PA and seeing patients pretty much on my own.” The physician McKown reported to worked with her about half a day each week. “He was always very available, but the learning curve was very steep,” she recalled.
After completing the two-year commitment plus three additional years, McKown was eager to see what was next in terms of caring for her patients, particularly the very sick. She considered medical school, but ultimately, McKown left Texas to enter the John Hopkins Hospital PA Surgical Residency Program. Having served her SMHS PA program elective at INOVA Fairfax Hospital’s cardiac program, she knew she loved surgery. The surgical residency was a total immersion experience, with 80 or more hours of rotations and overnight calls, but it was a year of her life McKown “wouldn’t trade for anything.”
Interested in getting involved with the program as an alumni volunteer? Contact Sarah Klein at firstname.lastname@example.org.