For Don Williams, DMSc, PA-C, located in central Texas halfway between Austin and Waco, one silver lining that has come from the COVID-19 crisis is that many of his COPD patients, previously slow to follow up regarding their treatment, are paying attention now. “We are seeing more follow up appointments– my pulmonary / sleep patients are more concerned about their follow-up care now.” Dr. Williams notes that PA-manned clinics greatly expand access to care, with some patients need to drive 3 hours to reach a major hospital system in Texas. “We need providers in order to have access to care,” he adds.
Dr. Williams has gotten involved in PA advocacy, and says “It is prime time for everyone to reach out to legislators about Optimal Team Practice in order to alleviate the barriers to practicing medicine.” He is deeply concerned about archaic rules that still exist which limit the ability to provide care across the PA profession, ultimately leading to a general shortage of patient care. His dedication to the profession led him to draft a petition to lift restrictions on PA practice. “PAs are able to pivot easily into different areas of practice – not just COVID issues, but cardiac and pulmonary issues. Babies are still being born; people are still having heart attacks – medical crises happen every day. PAs are trained and equipped to handle a variety of situations. This is why the profession was created.”
He sees the PA profession as perfectly suited to fill the current healthcare void due to the cross training of PAs in different areas of medicine, which fosters versatility and adaptability. “You can open a healthcare system, but if you don’t have the providers, it doesn’t matter,” he explains. He says that PAs function as a major part of the healthcare systems today and they are ready, as a profession, to be able to care for their patients without having to have the direct supervision of an M.D.
Dr. Williams came to PA Medicine through becoming a medic in the Army. Although he was initially more business oriented and worked in intelligence, he learned that he was talented as a medic during his time stationed in Germany. “There was an accident one day – an explosion that resulted in multiple injuries – and that’s when I realized I was good at this.” He met a PA who became a great mentor, and who worked very hard to maximize the knowledge and experience of the medics under him. Dr. Williams excelled in the medic role, then went to nursing school, and ultimately landed in PA school, where he found his calling. “I ended up in Iraq, and loved taking care of the families there – children, parents, older family members – I took care of all of them.”
He says that being a military PA – he spent 23 years in the Army — is different from being in the civilian world, and he feels he has a lot to offer young PAs coming out of school. Dr. Williams has a passion for guiding the new PAs and sharing his knowledge of managing patient load. He tells them: “You can see one patient at a time.” He views his role as providing a comforting and reassuring presence. “It’s up to us veterans of the PA profession to take the hand of the new PA and guide them, to make sure they don’t get burned out and leave the profession. and help them to gain their confidence.” And Dr. Williams says he witnesses them gaining confidence as they gain experience. We need PAs seeing patients, showing patients that we are capable of seeing them and we can help to provide a better healthcare system. That is my focus right now. Bringing a light to what we can offer. Educating those that are coming out of school,” he explains.
Of his experience in the DMSc, he says Dr. Cannon’s course was incredibly informative in its focus on entrepreneurship and focusing on the details of running a clinic as a business. “I had a fantastic experience with the online structure, and the collaborative environment with the other students and the wide variety of experience represented. Everyone was willing to share their experience for the greater good,” he says.
Dr. Williams used coursework from Dr. Cannon’s course to track how much their telemedicine program was actually saving the government. He says, “there were so many practical applications for real life.” Telemedicine helped to alleviate the shortage of travel pay dollars in the VA. Dr. Williams was able to get more appointments open for telemedicine, and therefore expanded access to more patients that otherwise would have been unable to have been seen.
Dr. Williams is also an education buff. He is currently taking a class through Harvard on ventilators, and is planning on taking Lynchburg’s PA Education Certificate. “I am passionate about helping PA programs train up the next generation of PAs. It’s really the best of both worlds – mentoring PAs and serving my patients. Both of these things make for an extremely rewarding life.”