National PA Week: A Conversation With Sarah Neguse, Assistant Professor of the RVU PA Program

RVU’s PA Program welcomed its third cohort of students over the summer. After completing the program, these students will become medical professionals who can diagnose illness and develop and manage treatment plans. In doing so, they will help to alleviate the shortage of physicians in the nation. In honor of National PA Week, RVU hosted a conversation with Sarah Neguse, MS, PA-C, Assistant Professor of the RVU PA Program.

Sarah Neguse, MS, PAC-C, Assistant Professor of the PA Program

About the PA Profession

The PA profession began over 50 years ago as a way to rapidly train and utilize more health care professionals in areas of medical need. How has the profession changed over time?

The profession has grown tremendously since its inception over 50 years ago. There is clearly more awareness of the profession itself and I think you can see this through the number of PA programs that continue to crop up, as well as by the number of PAs that become certified each year. PAs are even starting to become part of the healthcare systems in other countries. The profession has also evolved in terms of responsibilities and rules and regulations. PAs can now prescribe in every state, which was not the case many years ago. They have more responsibilities and practice duties and there has also been a notable increase in PAs who specialize.

What are some misconceptions about PAs and/or the profession?

Although we have come a long way, some patients still don’t have a full understanding of what PAs are and what we can do. There is a misconception that our responsibilities are limited, that we are “assistants” to the doctor, and that we cannot prescribe medication. I think it is crucial that, as PAs, we continue to educate the community and advocate for our profession to help everyone better understand who we are and what we do. 

What made you want to become a physician assistant?

For as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to be in the medical field. Early on in college, I explored nursing, MD, PA, and NP [programs] so I could get a good sense of what made each profession unique. I started shadowing a PA who practiced Internal Medicine in Boulder and really fell in love with the profession at that time. I knew [the PA profession] was the right fit for me in terms of the right amount of autonomy balanced with collaboration, the flexibility in what I could practice, and the constant challenge. I love learning and, as a PA, you must be willing to be a lifelong learner. I am still learning new things almost 10 years later.

What has your career been like?

It has been unpredictable! I originally wanted to work in the [Emergency Department] but started off in Internal Medicine and ended up staying there for 5 years. It was hard but rewarding – I saw really complex patients with multiple comorbidities. I then moved on to Family Medicine where I stayed for 3 years. I really enjoyed my time there. It was a much different environment, both in terms of my professional team and my patients. Then I took a leap of faith and shifted to academia because for years I knew that is what I really wanted to do with my skillset. It was the best move I could have made. I really thrive in education and feel so honored to teach future PAs. It’s equally as rewarding as when I saw patients because I know I am contributing to the development of competent and compassionate PAs for our community.

Do you still practice or is your career now solely focused on academia?

I do still practice once a week in Internal Medicine. My primary focus is academia, but I think it is really important to stay up-to-date with my clinical skills, not only for the students I am teaching but for myself. Plus, I love patient care so I enjoy getting to see patients from time to time.

Ms. Neguse assisting during a PA Week Bake Sale in 2019.

About RVU’s PA Program

What do you do in the RVU PA Program?

I am the Director of Admissions for the PA Program, so I am in charge of all policies and procedures related to admissions—from interviews to final selections to the pre-matriculation process. I also teach! I am an Assistant Professor for the program. In my faculty role, I am the Course Director for our Clinical Skills and Assessment course as well as our small group course, Reasoning and Application. I provide guest lectures in other courses in our program such as Illness and Disease and Normal Human Development.

What are some frequently asked questions about the PA Program and what is your response?

I often get asked at general information sessions about what makes our program unique. I usually start with the fact that our program is designed around a competency-based curriculum, which is unique for PA programs. I also think being housed in a DO school makes us unique. It allows our students to experience the mind, body, spirit focus that embodies osteopathic medicine.

What is the future of the PA program at RVU (i.e. new developments)?

I think we have a lot to look forward to in our program! Being a fairly new program, we continue to learn and grow each year. The inaugural cohort will be graduating this November, which is a really exciting moment for us all. They will be the first to represent RVU in the community as PAs. We recently seated our 3rd cohort and we are now in the middle of our 4th admissions cycle, so time moves quickly! Our curriculum continues to be innovative; we are constantly modifying, refining, and polishing what we do so that students receive the best education to help them become competent, compassionate, and collaborative Physician Assistants.

Students from the PA Class of 2021 listen while Ms. Neguse explains an Orientation Week activity.

About you

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to relax! I have two young daughters, so most of my free time is spent with them. Our family also loves being outdoors. We go camping, hiking, and biking as often as we can and enjoy finding new dispersed sites that are off the beaten path.

What is the greatest advice you have received?

My dad always reminded me to stop wasting time regretting. His best piece of advice for me was that “you make the best decision you can with the information you had at that time.” I always try to remember this as I walk through life and make decisions that, as I reflect back on, may or may not have been what I would do today given the chance to reconsider. It saves me a lot of wasted time wallowing in regret!

What are you most proud of?

I’m sure this is a cliché answer, but I am most proud of my kids! They both have such strong personalities and are unique each in their own way – I love watching them grow. 

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