Carrie Kowalski, MPAP, PA-C
Class of 2012
Carrie Kowalski, MPAP, PA-C, currently works as the first PA at the Venice Family Clinic, where more than 24,000 low-income individuals are seen annually. Her role as a health practitioner is unique, in that she participates in street medicine with a supervising phyisician in the morning and sees patients in the clinic in the afternoon. Street medicine allows the clinic to bring healthcare to the area's many homeless individuals instead of only seeing those who come to the clinic themselves. Her role was highlighted in an article on the American Academy of Physician Assitant's PAs Connect site.
Here, she shares her experiences after graduation.
What is your schedule like?
I work Monday through Friday during business hours. I work anywhere from 40 to 45 hours per week.
What types of patients do you see and what are the most common conditions?
At Venice Family Clinic, a fifth of our patients are homeless. The homeless are faced with the same chronic conditions as other adults–diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, vascular disease, and respiratory illnesses such as asthma and COPD. But many homeless also have untreated mental health conditions and substance dependence issues. We work on multi-disciplinary teams alongside psychiatrists, therapists, and case managers to treat their medical, mental health, and substance dependence issues. The homeless’ life expectancy is severely altered, so we have a lot of work to do to provide them with the care they need to become healthier and happier. Unfortunately, the most lethal disease I’ve encountered with these patients is end stage liver disease (related to chronic Hepatitis C and alcoholism).
How did you get into this field?
I’ve always wanted to work at the Venice Family Clinic (VFC). Before PA school, I worked as a medical assistant at Planned Parenthood, and we often referred our uninsured patients to VFC for their primary care. I believe in health care for all, and I believe in the power of preventative medicine. I’ve found many like-minded colleagues at VFC.
What do you like most about your job?
There are two things that I like most about my job in Family Practice at VFC. First, I love the competency I’m establishing in treating such a wide variety of conditions. When I first started, I felt overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of knowledge a good family practitioner needs! Now, 2 ½ years later, I feel more confident on what I can treat or refer and what I need to consult with a supervising physician on. I now have working knowledge on the standard of care and how it relates to most conditions in medicine. The second thing I love about Family Practice is continuity. I really get to know my patients. I am with them through their ups and downs and am lucky to be allowed in to such a private and important part of their lives—their health! I’ve helped diagnose serious illness such as cancer, and I’ve linked patients to much needed treatments. I’ve helped people lose weight, quit smoking, and become and stay sober. Through our homeless program, we have helped move patients from the streets into housing. I’ve also seen a lot of homeless patients pass on and can feel proud that I gave them dignity in death and took care of them when no one else did. I’ve learned to have perspective on what a good outcome is, and cherish the times when we’ve made a positive impact for someone.
What salary range can you expect?
Your salary relates directly to your experience. As a new PA, you’ll have so much to learn and won’t be worth too much! But, I think it’s reasonable to be paid $85,000 to $100,000 starting. My advice is to be and stay humble, as you’ll be working alongside doctors who have sacrificed so much to be able to practice medicine and who have much more experience and training than you. As you gain experience and prove to your colleagues that you are a team player who is willing to work hard, your value will improve quickly! Remember that in medicine your job is to do no harm, so always err on the side of caution and ask for help when you need it.