Read part 1 of this series here.

What is it like to work as a physician assistant and be a Catholic feminist? I asked two professionals to find out.

Amanda Laatsch: Physician Assistant in Gastroenterology

How did you become a gastroenterology physician assistant (PA)?

I always knew I wanted a career in the medical field. I was a good student, particularly in science, and I felt that medicine was a great way to utilize my God-given intellectual abilities to help others. It took me a while to choose a specific career path, but I ultimately decided to become a PA because I like the unique role they provide in health care, and I thought it would offer good work-life balance for my future family. During PA school, I found my gastroenterology (GI) lectures particularly interesting, and that led me to pursue a job in this specialty after graduating.

What does a typical day look like in your job?

My work days vary. Some days, I see patients at the GI clinic. Many of them are referred to me by their primary care providers, and I help diagnose and treat their GI conditions, such as acid reflux or Crohn’s disease. Other days, I make rounds at the hospital and see admitted patients who are having GI problems. I order tests, prescribe medications, schedule procedures (such as colonoscopies), and communicate with the doctors about their care.

What is it like to work in gastroenterology as a Catholic feminist? Do any aspects of your Catholicism or feminism present challenges or benefits in your job?

As a Catholic feminist, I make a point to really listen to my female patients. Many women feel that their doctors dismiss their symptoms or chalk them all up to stress, anxiety, or being overweight. These factors can certainly make symptoms worse, but they are rarely 100% of the problem. I’m not always able to provide a clear diagnosis, but I can do my due diligence to rule out serious conditions and hopefully make life more manageable for my patients. Of course, I also take this approach to my male patients, but it seems to me that female patients struggle more with not feeling “heard” by their providers.

Many women feel that their doctors dismiss their symptoms or chalk them all up to stress, anxiety, or being overweight.

What advice do you have for young Catholic feminists who are considering your career path?

For Catholic feminists considering the medical field, I would say that there are so many options available! Doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, physical therapist, dietician, pharmacist, and so much more ... Each role provides its own value to the health care team, but necessary training and lifestyle can vary. I suggest researching all options and shadowing a professional to get firsthand experience of what a particular career entails.

Is there a devotion (a saint, a particular prayer, etc.) that has been especially precious to you in your job?

I attended PA school at DeSales University, so St. Francis de Sales is naturally a favorite of mine. I’m also inspired by the life of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, as she lived the vocations of both physician and mother (in the 1950s!) in such a beautiful way.

Anne Kristobak: Physician Assistant in Orthopedics

How did you become a physician assistant in orthopedics?

I was a political science major in undergrad and thought I would go to law school or work in Washington, D.C. in some capacity. My summer job in college was with an organization called People Building People, which hosted medical and community-building trips in Juarez, Mexico. I lived in Juarez for two summers with several other interns, and we hosted medical mission trips. That’s when I became interested in the field of medicine. I saw firsthand how someone in the medical field can make a dramatic difference in an individual’s life and how you can serve the poor and under-served in a tangible way.

I used all my electives in undergrad to take the required classes for PA school and ended up with a biology minor. I was attracted to the PA profession specifically, because I knew I wanted to be married and have kids, and being a PA would be more conducive to family life than going the doctor route (although I know so many female physicians who are amazing wives and moms, and I really admire them!).

I grew up in a family that valued education highly. My parents and the college I went to, Grove City College, emphasized the importance of evaluating what you love, what you are good at, and then using that to choose a profession. I am really grateful for that. I love what I do, and I enjoy going to work every day.

I ended up in orthopedics via pediatrics. I was formerly in pediatric pulmonary medicine, and because of some moves due to my husband’s career, the only job I could find as a PA was in pediatric orthopedics. I love the field. Orthopedics is an amazing area of medicine, because we get to help people gain function and live with less pain.

What does a typical day look like in your job?

No two days are alike, which keeps my job interesting. I see my own clinics twice a week, and then I either assist in the operating room or see a clinic with one of my surgeons. I care for children with a variety of orthopedic complaints, including fractures, limb and spine deformities, genetic disorders, and athletic injuries. Another task I have at Walter Reed is coordinating orthopedic operative care for our wounded soldiers coming from overseas. Most American soldiers involved in war trauma or accidents in another country come to Walter Reed for definitive care. I usually have a PA student or a pediatric resident with me in clinic, so I do a lot of education on the job as well. All of these things keep me busy!

What is it like to work in orthopedics as a Catholic feminist? Do any aspects of your Catholicism or feminism present challenges or benefits in your job?

The majority of physician assistants are women, so I work with a lot of other hardworking, well-educated, smart women, which is a great part of being in the medical field. There are fewer women orthopedic surgeons than in most surgical specialties, so I always try to encourage female medical students who are considering the field. I think it’s important to have men and women represented in an organization, because each gender brings something unique and valuable to the table.

I think I’m a good example for my two sons who see their mother working full time and doing something she loves. My husband is also very supportive of my career, and we handle work, kids, and house stuff as a team.

What advice do you have for young Catholic feminists who are considering your career path?

I think it’s important to carve out the time to figure out what you are good at (and bad at) and what excites you. Be intentional about that. I think medicine is a field that women can excel in, because we naturally have deep empathy for another person’s suffering.

I think medicine is a field that women can excel in, because we naturally have deep empathy for another person’s suffering.

On a more practical level, I shadowed a few physician assistants before I decided to go to school for it. You really need to do research on the profession before diving in. You also have to have top-notch undergrad grades. Most PA programs are two-year master’s degrees, and those two years are really intense. I would not plan on doing anything else during that time.

If you are not married yet and want to be, I think it is equally important to find a spouse who will support your education and profession. The vocation of marriage and motherhood do not exclude a career. When we think of a Catholic woman, we usually think of a female in a religious order or a mother. We aren’t thinking of a mom who works full time.

I try to recognize women like me who are married, have kids, and work full time out of the home on my blog, All Things Bright. It’s OK to have your kids go to day care or have a nanny — and it’s really important to have a spouse who backs you up. What matters is that you are doing what God calls you to do. For me, that is having a career in medicine and being a wife and mom.

Is there a devotion (a saint, a particular prayer, etc.) that has been especially precious to you in your job?

I have always loved Mother Teresa, even as a little girl who grew up in a Protestant home. There was something so attractive about this woman who was pulling the sick and dying off of the streets. The more I read about Mother Teresa, the more I admired what made her who she was: her constant “yes” to God. She also loved and cared for children. I think that, so often, children suffer because adults are selfish, but Mother Teresa was one of their strongest advocates in the 20th century.

I also love the Gospel passages where Jesus heals people. It highlights how concerned He is with human suffering. I see what I do as a way to be like Jesus — to be his hands, in a small way. Medicine is mercy. It’s one of the few professions where you, as the provider, get to make a big, positive difference in a person’s life every day you go to work.

Mother Teresa prayed this prayer by St. John Henry Newman every day, which I also pray:  

Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance wherever I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly, that my life may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through me, and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!
Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine, so to shine as to be a light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be mine.
It will be you, shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise You the way You love best, by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example, by the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.
Amen.

Abby Jorgensen

‍Abby Jorgensen is a firm believer in the dignity of the human person and strives to enact this in her roles as wife, mom, sociologist, and birth and bereavement doula. In her work as a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Notre Dame, Abby works to apply her charisms of knowledge and teaching to align academic understandings of family, politics, and culture with people’s lived experiences. She aims to foster a loving politic based on dignity and the pursuit of truth. In both her academic and doula work, she is on a mission to accompany parents and future parents navigate parenthood. Abby lives on a little city lot in South Bend, Indiana, with her husband, daughter, two dogs, cat, and five chickens. She once designed and taught a course about cultural sociology using Star Trek.

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