Life in a “Two-PA” Household

October 4, 2019—Joy Conklin, the OMA’s Vice President of Practice Advocacy, catches up with Heather Beissinger and Pearce Beissinger, a married couple that just happen to both be physician assistants. Pearce was recipient of the OMA's inaugural Physician Assistant-Citizen of the Year Award in 2018.

Where did each of you complete your degrees?

Heather: I completed a bachelor’s degree of science in biology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. My intention was always to enter into the medical field and my biology focus was pre-med. I completed my master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies at Arcadia University near Philadelphia, which is where I met Pearce.

Pearce: I completed my pre-PA education at Florida State University and Yale University. I also completed my master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies at Arcadia University. As Heather mentioned, we met in PA school. I believe that it was no coincidence that the one empty seat in the classroom was next to me when Heather walked in looking for a place to sit.

What drew each of you to the physician assistant occupation?

Pearce: Both my parents were providers. I toyed with the idea of medicine, ministry, and even law school. I found myself drawn to the PA profession looking at the wealth of opportunity and flexibility as a career choice.

Heather: Initially, I considered becoming a neonatologist. My first exposure to medicine was with my mother, who was a nurse, and then I began learning about the PA career during my college years living in New England. While I considered medical school, the PA profession presented itself as a great career choice to practice medicine in a team model with a more cost-effective upfront investment in my career journey. I also felt it would offer me more flexibility when I wanted to start a family.

Anything you’d like to share with us about the PA team-based practice model?

Pearce: Whether it is the practice of medicine or a marriage, team models that emphasize collaboration and mutual respect are present in many aspects of life.

Heather: Whether or not it has been accurately described or implemented in legislative semantics, collaboration with our physician partners has always been the foundation of how we practice medicine.

Pearce: That’s right. Every member of the team brings some resourceful insight to the care of patients, and working together in a complementary way will be to the benefit of the population we serve.

How has being a “two-PA family” affected your home life?

Heather: Earlier in our careers we found it challenging for both of us to take call, especially in-house call at the hospitals. As our careers progressed and we had our kids, I was able to find a position with a collaborating physician who brought me on the team in a role that did not require night call or weekends.

Pearce: This has created tremendous balance to our family life, as my job requires coverage of call nights and weekends. We do have the occasional medical discussion and jokes at the dinner table. Yes, we are both dorks in that way. Our kids often ask us about the kinds of medical problems and the people we cared for during the work day. But in general, life is busy with two kids, two dogs, our church, and community service, as well as our multiple pursuits in the great outdoors.

What do your children think about your careers?

Heather: Well, we brought our daughter Micah, who is 14, to Take Your Child to Work Day. Let’s just say that, as of yet, medicine may not be her “cup of tea.” She almost passed out during open heart surgery but was able to tolerate seeing patients when I took her to the ortho clinic. So far, she tells us she wants to be a schoolteacher or open a doggie daycare.

Pearce: We feel encouraged and blessed that we can care for our children (and their friends) whenever somebody needs to be bandaged up. Our kids also thought it was pretty cool that Mom could suture Dad’s finger together in the kitchen.

How has OMA membership aided you in your work?

Heather: We have been really encouraged at the level of engagement the OMA has made at the state level. Specifically, their partnership with physicians and PAs has been very encouraging. With only a small number of PA programs in the state, Oregon has come a long way in advocating for PAs as medical providers, even in the past decade.

Pearce: Optimal Team Practice. According to the American Association of Physician Assistants, Optimal Team Practice occurs when PAs, physicians, and other medical professionals work together to provide quality care without burdensome administrative constraints. Coming from the East Coast, where the PA culture seems to be a little “further ahead” in many states, there are certainly some legislative agenda items that are going to be helpful for PAs professionally and for the patients they serve. We are glad to see the OMA working hard to be thoughtful in approaching these issues.

Pearce, you’re the recipient of the OMA’s inaugural Physician Assistant-Citizen of the Year Award, nominated by Dr. Thomas Molloy. Any thoughts?

Pearce: I have to say that it was a very humbling experience. My work in wilderness medicine and serving with Portland Mountain Rescue has been both a passion and a challenge. We have many members of our team who sacrifice time away from their families and careers to serve the mountain community. It is a great privilege to work with them. With Heather’s support, I hope I can continue to be a resource to the community for a long time.