Karli Burridge, PA-C, FOMA, is a board-certified physician associate (PA) and a fellow of the Obesity Medicine Association (OMA). She is the president of PAs in Obesity Medicine and serves on the board of the Illinois Obesity Society. She is the founder and owner of Gaining Health, a company that provides resources for clinicians and organizations who want to start or optimize obesity treatment programs. She is also the host of the Gaining Heath podcast and works at the Ascension Medical Weight Management program in Westmont, Illinois.

Q: How long have you been in practice? Have things changed during this time?

PA Burridge: I have been in practice for almost 14 years. When I graduated from PA school at Midwestern University, I was not even aware that the specialty of obesity medicine existed. The field of obesity medicine has grown and expanded immensely in the last 10 years and is currently the fastest growing medical specialty. Clinicians are very eager to learn about evidence-based obesity management.

Q: What experience(s) got you interested in obesity medicine?

PA Burridge: I have always been a big believer in holistic care and by that I mean treating the whole person — mind and body. For this reason, I graduated from university with degrees in psychology and physiology, and went on to graduate from school for clinical exercise physiology because of the health benefits of physical activity. However, I discovered that to work directly with patients with obesity it was best to have a clinical license, which is why I decided to go to PA school.

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Upon graduation, my plan was to work in primary care and focus on disease prevention and health promotion, wanting to help patients with lifestyle factors and weight management. However, outside of the concepts of energy balance and recommending that people eat less and move more, none of my training included additional strategies and tools to assist patients with weight management. In 2009, obesity was not officially recognized as a disease by the American Medical Association (this did not occur until 2013), and we didn’t learn much about obesity or how to manage it in my medical training. I found that it was surprisingly challenging to help patients lose weight and keep it off long-term, which frustrated both myself and my patients.

It wasn’t until a few years later when I landed a job in bariatric surgery, that I learned about the complexities of obesity and the numerous hormones and neuroendocrine systems that can make it exceedingly difficult for people with obesity to lose weight and maintain weight reduction. Once I discovered this science and had a better understanding of how I could help my patients, I wanted to learn everything I could about surgical and medical obesity treatment. Now, I combine my passion for healthy lifestyle changes with evidence-based tools like metabolic and bariatric surgery and/or pharmacotherapy, as well as a thorough assessment of other factors that may be contributing to the development of obesity. I individualize treatment for my patients and make a significant difference in their health and well-being.

Q: What are the biggest health challenges facing patients with obesity?

PA Burridge: One of the biggest challenges is access to care. Few patients have access to clinicians who have been trained in obesity medicine and, often, even those who are fortunate to have found an obesity specialist don’t have coverage for evidence-based treatments like antiobesity medications. Another challenge is access to healthful foods. Unfortunately, ultra-processed foods tend to be more cost-effective than healthful, whole foods, which contributes to the health disparities that we see with medical conditions such as obesity.

Q: Tell us about why you started Gaining Health?

PA Burridge: Today, 42% of the US adult population and 20% of the pediatric population have obesity; this number is projected to reach 58% of adults by 2035, according to the World Obesity Federation’s 2023 report. We need more clinicians who are trained in evidence-based, compassionate obesity care. However, training and education are just the beginning. Taking that education and then developing a comprehensive obesity treatment program can take a lot of time and effort, and many busy clinicians just don’t have the time and bandwidth to develop a program from scratch.

I started Gaining Health so that clinicians wouldn’t have to recreate the wheel every time someone wanted to start an obesity treatment program. With Gaining Health, we provide a roadmap and resources that clinicians use to develop their programs. They can get their programs up and running faster, more efficiently, and at a much lower cost. It has been very fulfilling to see so many clinicians start their obesity management programs. As a bonus, the clinicians are also finding a renewed love for their profession because they are getting to do what they have always wanted to do: help their patients get healthier and feel better.

Q: Who is/was your mentor in the PA field? 

PA Burridge: I have had several incredible mentors who have helped me throughout my career. Two that really stand out are Sandra Christensen, MSN, ARNP, FNP-BS, FOMA, who was my mentor when I first joined the OMA and has been like family ever since, and Amy Ingersoll, PA-C, a trailblazer and leader in the field of obesity medicine and with whom I cofounded PAs in Obesity Medicine in 2017. Many, many others have mentored me, guided me, and supported me throughout my journey in this field.

Q: What aspects of your profession are most rewarding/challenging?

PA Burridge: Most rewarding is when a patient recognizes that their weight is not all their fault and that there is hope that they can be a healthier, happier version of themselves. Most challenging is when patients do not have access to these life-changing and lifesaving treatments.

Q: Have you found a way to overcome these challenges?

PA Burridge: I advocate for the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act. I try to enhance awareness of obesity as a disease and that evidence-based treatments should be covered, just like they are for other chronic diseases. I also talk about this a lot on the Gaining Health podcast, including episode 11 which is all about advocacy and where we stand as a country in terms of coverage.

Q: How do you avoid burnout? What do you do for fun?

PA Burridge: I really try to be holistic about my self-care as well. I try to exercise, walk outside, meditate, eat well, and get 8 hours of sleep on most days. Some days are better than others but like I tell my patients, it’s about consistency, not perfection! For fun, I recently started taking ballroom dancing classes — my favorites are the rhythm dances like salsa, cha-cha, and rumba!

Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

Burridge: I encourage clinicians to become educated in obesity medicine! PAs are perfectly positioned to be the leaders in this field and we need PAs in all kinds of specialties to be able to help patients with obesity. Obesity causes or contributes to the development of over 236 other medical conditions. When we treat obesity, everything else gets better, too! You can learn about obesity through the AAPA Obesity Toolkit and you can join PAs in Obesity Medicine. The OMA is another great place to receive education on obesity. Lastly, if you want to start an obesity treatment program, check out www.Gaininghealth.com, and listen to our weekly podcast (https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/id1649411537).