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Working as a physician associate with a long-term health condition

Physician associate (PA) Tanya Bass knew she wanted to work in a patient-facing role, but it wasn’t until she discovered the physician associate profession that she found her calling. Moving from her home in Southend-on-Sea to the West Midlands to study to become a PA was a huge financial challenge and required a lot of dedication.

The experience of becoming a PA, coupled with living with long-term health conditions, has taught her she can do anything she puts her mind to.

Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour. At the time, my only worry was how this would affect me academically. It left me with some hidden conditions, which don’t tend to affect me if I’m taking my medication. The way the nursing and medical team at Great Ormond Street worked so well together was inspiring, and I knew that I wanted to work in a role that could fit into a team in the same way.

Becoming a PA has been a challenge, as most people assume that I can do anything – and I really do try – but I burn out a lot easier, and need to manage my stress to prevent anything like an adrenal crisis (which has not happened yet, touch wood). It can be a bit of a blessing; it means that I have no choice but to think about myself sometimes. But it also leaves me feeling drained around mid-afternoon, forgetting to take medication, and having to explain my condition to my colleagues and practice manager. I tend to downplay how I’m feeling, because I don’t want anyone to think I am less capable of my role, especially now. I want to be seen as ‘normal’, and I want to be able to help out in all areas and feel like I’m making a difference, but my condition puts me in the high-risk category. I am still able to make a difference, though: I triage patients who call in that day, I can examine and take bloods if they need to be seen face to face, and I can make decisions about a patient’s care with the support of my supervising GP at the my workplace in east Hereford. My condition has allowed me to develop empathy, particularly for patients with long term health conditions, and that is where my passion lies.

As a PA, I can choose which area of medicine I want to work in. Initially, I was advised to ‘work in hospital, because it’s faster pace’. The truth is that I don’t think I’d get on well with the stresses hospital work brings, in addition to the current stresses now. The fact that PAs can’t prescribe yet doesn’t really create a barrier for me; it allows me to think about what needs to be done first and then discuss with a colleague. We’ll get there in time.

I would advise anyone choosing a specialty to follow their gut instinct– the PA role can be anything you want to make it, and I love it.