In our ongoing profile series, we are honoring NPs and PAs who are making a difference in the field. Today, we are highlighting Jim Anderson, MPAS, PA-C, DFAAPA, a PA of 21 years who works at Evergreen Treatment Services Opioid Treatment Program, Seattle, WA. Anderson is the current president of the AAPA Society of PAs in Addiction Medicine and also holds the commissioner position on the Washington State Medical Commission.
Q. Who was your mentor in the PA field?
My mentor was Patti Pagels, PA-C, formerly of UT Southwestern Medical Center. She was extremely influential in helping me understand how addressing racism, implicit bias, and health inequities can be a core foundational value of working as a clinical PA. I owe her a lot.
Q. What unique projects have you started to advance patients’ health?
While chairing the AAPA Committee on Diversity, I helped launch the Heads Up project, where bus signs were placed on University of Washington School of Medicine shuttles promoting awareness of the negative impact of implicit bias on our patients.
Q. What aspects of your profession are most rewarding?
I work with patients who are often distrustful of authority and of our medical system. Their experiences have often been less than positive when being seen by medical providers. When I earn their trust and respect, which can be a lengthy process, it’s a great feeling. Not only does it make our time together more enjoyable and valuable, but I think it usually also makes it more likely that they will engage in medical care in the future, and hopefully have better experiences and improved health because of it.
Q. What aspects of your profession are most challenging?
I am sometimes frustrated that many colleagues don’t see health disparities, provider bias, and systemic racism in medicine as medical issues. This is changing, and I am pleased with that, but I still feel impatient sometimes with the slow pace of change in this regard, both in changing our medical system to address this, as well as having individual colleagues also elevate these issues and see them as part of our work as PAs and NPs.
Q. Have you found a way to overcome these challenges?
One way is to learn to be more patient and to remember advice from my first supervising physician in 2000 who said, “remember Jim, this is a marathon race, not a sprint.” While I am by nature not the most patient person, I have been working to become more so in all aspects of my life including personal and professional. That makes me a better person, a better provider, and I think also makes needed changes happen more quickly.
Q. Who is your most memorable patient and why?
I work in addiction medicine and my most memorable patient is one who has been dealt a horrible hand from day 1 yet who perseveres and exhibits inestimable courage to attain stability and regain and rebuild a satisfying life.
Q. How do you avoid burnout?
I hold hands with my amazing partner Pat, listen to the Gang of Four band songs over and over (with headphones on, so Pat doesn’t leave me), shoot baskets twice a day, and learn how to identify birds by their songs.
Q. What do you know now that you wish you knew coming out of PA school?
I wish I knew then how important paying close attention to individual communication nuances is, both with colleagues and patients. It has taken me 21 years to really understand this.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to tell our PA/NP readers?
PAs and NPs are, in my estimation, the heart of medicine. We are known to listen, and listen reflectively. PAs and NPs also have so much more in common than not, and I wish that our professional associations could find a way to work together more closely. I learn from nurses and NPs every day, as well as from my PA and MD colleagues, and it takes a village to care for our patients.