Taking Charge to Make a Change

Anne Walsh

When we asked Anne Walsh, a Certified PA for more than 20 years, about her decision to become a PA, she responded with an inspiring story.

“Before becoming a PA, I was a cytotechnologist for 10 years, sitting at a microscope screening slide after slide, eight hours a day, five days a week”, recalled the California based PA. “One day, 25 years ago now, a young woman who happened to be a hospital colleague whom I’d never met before, walked into the lab and asked, ‘Can you show me my cells?’.” Anne recalled thinking that it was an awkward request.

In the oncology clinic minutes before, Anne had diagnosed her with breast cancer by fine needle aspiration. “As we sat at the multi-headed microscope looking at her slides, she asked, ‘What makes my cells malignant?’ The more I explained, the less awkward it became.” By the end of their conversation, during which Anne learned that her colleague had had a breast lump for two years, and was afraid to seek care, her colleague thanked her profusely for her time and the impromptu cytology lesson.    

“Over the next year, I got to know her better,” Anne recalled. “She’d drop by the lab occasionally to update me on her treatment and we bonded over our love for Labrador retrievers. I watched her lose weight, lose her hair and finally, lose her battle.” Anne began to realize that there were individuals behind the thousands of specimens she rendered a diagnosis for every day, people whom she never got to meet, teach or hear their stories.

Anne knew it was time to get out from behind the microscope and thought that pursuing direct patient care as a PA seemed a better fit as a second career. She began re-taking her more-than-10-year-old prerequisites while continuing to work full time.

“On my last day of work as a cytotech, I was called to another fine needle aspiration, this time in the ENT clinic. The attending physician, who was also the department chair, commented he’d never seen me before. I introduced myself and added, ‘Don’t worry about remembering me – today’s my last day’, she recalled. She knew she had made the right decision. “Now, in my 21st year as a PA, I can still say it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”

To learn more about the critical role Certified PAs play as health care professionals or to see if the PA path is right for you, please visit PAsDoThat.net.