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PAs learn source of real healing

Karen Garloch
Karen Garloch writes on Health for The Charlotte Observer. Her column appears each Tuesday.

Twenty students in a new training program for physician assistants at Wingate University are getting the message early and often.

“All healing is involved in relationships,” says director Gary Uremovich. “That's where real healing comes from.”

Physician assistants, licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of doctors, usually have more time to build relationships with patients.

But even Uremovich, 57, a physician assistant, or PA, for more than 30 years, didn't get this right away.

In 1982, as a PA in the U.S. Air Force working in England, he met a “young and disheveled” woman who changed his practice.

She listed many problems – she had three children and was pregnant again, her marriage was failing, she didn't look or feel well.

Uremovich felt overwhelmed, just listening to her. The patient, sensing this, paused and said, “You don't give a damn,” and walked out.

Stunned, Uremovich closed the door and cried. “I think she saw that I wasn't responsive,” he said. “I had always thought of myself as a caring person. But she revealed something I needed to hear.”

The experience led him to write an article called “Patient Care Begins With Caring.”

It has become his mantra as a teacher.

“It's very easy to look at (health care) from a technical aspect, to give the right prescription, or give the right test or make the right diagnosis,” he said. “But health care is far more than that. It's built upon a relationship.”

The first school for physician assistants in the nation opened at Duke University in 1968. Since then, the PA concept has taken off around the world. With the addition of Wingate's program, there are now five N.C. schools for physician assistants. (Others are at Wake Forest, East Carolina and Methodist.) Wingate's 27-month PA training program incorporates some elements of medical school. But medical training itself “causes distance between (physicians) and patients,” Uremovich said.

In contrast, PA training stresses the importance of being comfortable around people with needs. In their first year, Wingate students are required to work in faith-based or community health-care organizations, such as free clinics.

“We want to make sure that they practice compassionate health care,” Uremovich said.

“I want them to really sense that this is a calling that goes beyond just a job.”

Karen Garloch: 704-358-5078; kgarloch@charlotteobserver.com.

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