Q&A with Carl Garrubba, MPA, PA-C, Physician Assistant Educator in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Carl Garrubba is a PA with a focus on HIV medicine and infectious diseases and education at Chatham University. Once a certified public accountant (CPA), he has a master of physician assistant degree from Duquesne University and is NCCPA certified. Carl has been at CU for five years, and has been recently named the PA Program Director. On switching from finance to medicine, Carl says, "healthcare is so vital to a society and I'm excited to be a part of that delivery."
Q: What motivated you to become a physician assistant?
A: After working for eight years as an accountant, auditor, tax specialist and financial analyst, I became complacent with my position and wanted a new challenge educating and caring for patients. I always enjoyed the sciences and medicine, but was never exposed to it until I began work at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center as a financial analyst and worked directly with the medical school. That exposure is what hooked me into healthcare and into the profession.
Q: What made you choose to become a PA over other healthcare professions?
A: Becoming a PA afforded me the opportunity to practice medicine in an abbreviated time frame than if I had gone to medical school. It was also a considerably less expensive investment, which appealed to me at the time. Although I admire and respect the nursing, OT and PT professions, my true interest was to practice medicine specifically, evaluating, diagnosing and treating patients in emergency, outpatient and inpatient settings.
Q: When and how did you start at Chatham University?
A: I began as the Clinical Coordinator here in June 2007 and stayed in that position for three years. Then, I became a full-time faculty member for two years. Just recently, I was offered the position of Program Director for the PA Program in April 2012.
Q: Was it your plan to migrate to PA education?
A: I have always been interested in teaching and education. I knew from the time I left PA school that I would eventually end up in education. In fact, one of my elective rotations was an education rotation where I assisted faculty and learned the process of delivering lectures and creating syllabi. I did not expect to become the program director, that just happened, but it was a natural progression for me considering my previous financial and management background.
Q: Typically, what are your day-to-day responsibilities?
A: I manage and evaluate the departmental faculty and staff, create and manage the department budget, and manage all day-to-day department operations.
Q: Aside from your university duties, do you still encounter patients?
A: Yes, I do work clinically one day a week at an HIV clinical research center.
Q: What are the greatest challenges you face in your job?
A: Budgetary constraints and workload intensity.
Q: What do you like most about your job? What do you dislike most?
A: I enjoy the interaction and management with the faculty and staff and students and guiding the future of the program. I dislike having to discipline faculty, staff or students.
Q: Are you currently involved with any research projects? Are there any projects that you would like to be involved with?
A: Yes, I have completed a research paper with a few other faculty members regarding our holistic approach to the admissions process for our program. I am also working on research project with another faculty member regarding the comparison of different forms of delivery for student learning and perfecting the physical exam.
Q: Do you feel that the role of physician assistants has changed over recent years?
A: Yes. First, it has become more prevalent and patients are now more aware of PAs and what they can do in a healthcare setting. Second, at least in Pennsylvania, we have seen practice laws become less constraining leading to better access to healthcare for patients.
Q: What do you feel is of the greatest concern to the PA profession today?
A: The greatest concern today is the pressure to move the PA degree from a master's level to a doctorate degree. Although I understand both sides of the argument, I believe it will make it more difficult and expensive for students to become PAs.
Q: Do you worry about the cost of PA education?
A: Yes, I do think that education in general is expensive and PA education is becoming more expensive each year. The concern is that this may deter some potentially excellent PAs to not enter the profession. On the positive side, salaries and the demand for PAs are continually increasing, which helps balance the increasing costs.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Graduating a new class of PAs!
Q: What is the most important thing you've learned over the course of your career?
A: Always continue to stay current in medical knowledge and skills.
Q: What advice do you have for others thinking of becoming a physician assistant?
A: It's a great career choice, has many rewarding aspects and is in high demand. Remember that you will not be able to practice independently under the current laws.
Q: How has your background in finance and education allowed you to grow professionally as a PA?
A: Being in education for the past five years has helped me to be more involved in the professional organizations, such as an active member of American Academy of Physician Assistants and the Pennsylvania Society of Physician Assistants. I am also on the finance and audit committees of the Physician Assistant Education Association.
Q: Is your participation on the PAEA finance committee a conscious choice to blend your past and current occupations?
A: Yes; when I saw there was an opening available on the finance committee of the PAEA, I immediately thought this was a great way to offer some expertise to the profession from my previous career. It has been a very rewarding experience for me and forces me to keep up my finance skills.
Q: If you could do it all over again, would you go straight into medicine?
A: Absolutely, it was the best decision I could have made for myself. It has opened many new doors for me that I would have otherwise never experienced. In addition, healthcare is so vital to a society and I'm excited to be a part of that delivery.
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