When St. Catherine University alumna Andrea Burgess MPAS’15, PA-C, started her undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota, she decided that she wanted to be pre-med to prepare for medical school. “I always wanted a career in medicine,” Burgess says. “I wanted to help people and connect with patients.” While Burgess was in college, she spoke with her cousin — who was in her medical residency at the time — about her career. Her cousin suggested she look at becoming a physician assistant (PA) as another option besides going to medical school. “I did a lot of research into various medical fields and found that becoming a PA was the perfect fit for me,” Burgess recalls, “I love that PAs get to spend time with their patients and build relationships with them, and the career offers flexibility and balance.”
After college, Burgess moved to Texas, where she utilized her EMT training and worked as an ER tech before continuing her education. As she researched physician assistant programs, she kept coming back to St. Kate’s Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) program. “I knew that St. Kate’s was a leader in healthcare education in Minnesota,” she says. “I looked at programs all over the country and St. Kate’s MPAS program stood out to me. The program — and all of St. Kate’s healthcare education —focuses on the life-changing aspect of medicine and treating the whole person. Not only is the program strong academically, but the University and faculty also encourage their students to make a difference in their community.” Burgess also learned about St. Kate’s strong industry partnerships with Minnesota’s foremost healthcare institutions, which meant that her clinical rotations and experiences would be of the highest quality.
Burgess was accepted into St. Kate’s MPAS program in 2013, and for the first 14 months she learned in the didactic, classroom settings before her clinical rotations. “Unlike my undergraduate experience — where I studied alone and needed to be personally driven to find additional experiences outside of the classroom — my program felt like a family. We studied together, learned from each other, and had a close-knit group that provided space for us to learn as a community.” During the first 14 months, MPAS students also shadow a licensed PA once a week in a professional setting. “Getting to shadow a PA was a wonderful opportunity to learn and watch how PAs interact with patients in different settings. These experiences built my confidence so that once I started my clinical rotations, I knew how to better interact with patients and build a good bedside manner,” Burgess says.
After the classroom portion of the program, Burgess began her rigorous MPAS clinical rotations. In just 14 months, she would complete 14 rotations through different clinical settings — including private clinics, hospitals, and community healthcare organizations. These intense and diverse experiences provided Burgess with a comprehensive understanding of what a professional PA can do. “If I had gone to medical school, I would have had to choose one specialty for my entire career. As a PA, I have the flexibility to work in any field. This provides me opportunities to grow and expand my horizons throughout my career, which is both challenging and very rewarding,” she says.
Burgess enjoyed all of her rotations, working with the MPAS faculty and clinical education staff to find placement in organizations that fit Burgess’ interests. “The preceptors would often compliment St. Kate’s MPAS program’s excellent communication and the high caliber of its students,” she says. “All of our clinical preceptors were great, and I still keep in touch with many of them, which is wonderful for professional networking and future job references.”
Before she started her clinicals, Burgess thought that she wanted to work in emergency medicine, based on her previous work as an ER tech. During her rotations, however, she worked with an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgical specialist group. “I fell in love with surgery. Being in the operating room didn’t feel like work, and I looked forward to it every day,” she says.
After graduation, the same ENT group hired Burgess, and she worked there for two years. When she and her husband moved to Seattle, she wanted to stay in a similar specialty. Burgess reflects, “With my strong academic and clinical experience from St. Kate’s — as well as the flexibility that a career as a PA offers — I knew I could explore all my job options and find the right job for me rather than taking whatever was available.” Burgess interviewed with an oral maxillofacial surgeon who was looking for a PA. “Maxillofacial surgery is a unique field for a PA, and there are only about five or six of us in the country,” Burgess says. She assists the surgeon with a multitude of surgeries, including orthognathic (jaw) surgery and TMJ surgery. These procedures help patients who have jaw misalignments such as severe overbites, underbites, or open bites, along with other conditions such as sleep apnea and TMJ arthritis. “I connect with the patients and explain all the steps that are involved with the surgery, including pre- and post-operation instructions, hospitalization, recovery, prescriptions, and post-operative visits,” she says.
All of Burgess’ work involves problem solving — which she excels at — to ensure the patient’s diagnosis and create their treatment plan. “In my job, I can help change people’s lives on and off the operating table. I’m not only the first assist during surgery, but I also get to walk people through the journey and build relationships with our patients so they have the best possible outcome,” Burgess says.
As Burgess moves forward with her promising PA career, she often thinks back on her education from St. Kate’s. She says, “I am forever grateful to the St. Kate's MPAS program for shaping who I am as a PA. They taught me to treat my patients as if they were my own family and give back to my community."