A PA’s positive outlook makes for a long, happy career in the NICU

Lori Johnson, PA-C, has had a long, successful career. Twists and turns along the way have kept her on her toes, but a positive outlook has led her to where she is today. While working towards her master's degree in exercise physiology education, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Whereas some would take such a diagnosis as a reason for disdain against the medical field, it opened Lori's eyes to a new area of curiosity. Helping her mother with post-surgery exercises and educating herself on breast cancer lead to a strong interest in health care. Lori felt a calling for work that would allow her to work anywhere and began physician assistant school. Unfortunately, while attending school, Lori's mother passed away. This did not break her passion for healthcare, and she has now been a PA for the past 25 years.

Lori started her PA career in the largest burn unit in New York City. Her focus was on adult and pediatric patients, and, at that time, the prospect of neonatal work was not on her radar. During an opportunity at the children's hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, Lori learned she loved pediatrics and working with babies and the families. The move to Florida also exposed her to MEDNAX. She transitioned to working for the company at a Level 2 facility in 2014. She worked in neonatal her entire time with MEDNAX and considered it the best move in her career.

Finding happiness

For many clinicians, interacting with the patients is vital for why they do what they do. In pediatrics and the NICU, clinicians work with patients who do not understand what you are doing or why they are there. As a PA in this area, Lori knows she is there to help them. Working with children and babies, she feels like she's "helping a helpless population." The families of these patients are under a lot of stress and endlessly thankful for Lori and others' care and support on the care team. Lori has a unique perspective on hospital-based pediatrics and the NICU, stating, "You are working in the happiest part of the hospital." Even within the hospital, there is a misunderstanding that you are caring for babies that are not doing well and are not going to live a good life. However, the majority of NICU patients grow up to be normal children. The percent of babies with chronic illnesses is tiny, but often that is where the emphasis falls.

Customizing care

As a PA, Lori has some consistency in her daily responsibilities and tasks. What helps her give outstanding care to her patients is knowing that their time in the hospital is far from business as usual. Each patient's and family's journey is unique to them. "Knowing most of what you're going to deal with every day and having the knowledge to face those things but being able to shift gears when you see that a family is reacting differently than what you may normally see. You have to be able to work in the moment," is what Lori says makes a great PA. Lori stays in close communication with the families while they're in the hospital. She knows no matter the patient's level of sickness, it's one of the worst days in the parent's lives, so she makes herself available to their needs.

Supporting your team

Lori enjoys working with the physicians at her practice. They work hard to ensure the families are involved in the care, and their needs are met. They also treat the staff with gratitude and respect. The entire practice makes sure to check in with each other after hard cases and shifts, which, especially for Lori, goes a long way to buoy back up her spirit. They also emphasize strong handoffs between team members, something that is beneficial to patients and providers.

Another thing her practice does well is covering shifts when needed. Lori says, "With this group, there is never an issue with someone coming forward to help you out." Even the physicians will step up to cover a shift when needed. Everyone has everyone else's back. The camaraderie among the team is instant, with newer team members willing to work and allow others a respite.

Encouraging others

Now a seasoned veteran, Lori has had others come to her in recent years for mentorship and the opportunity to shadow her at what she does best. Her own words say it best.

"This is the best thing I've ever done in my life. I feel like I was meant to do this. It took me a little while to find it, but I was meant to do this. Strangely enough, I've ended up in the place I should be at the end of my career as opposed to finding it early on. Everything that happens in your life leads you to where you need to be. This is the place I will retire. It's a lovely way to end a career."

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