There was a time when Christine McCormick, MS, MMS, PA-C, thought she’d be wearing a tutu and pointe shoes and dancing professionally. But that unfortunately didn’t happen.
Then, after graduating a year early from Rosemont College with a degree in Biology and Forensic Sociology, McCormick completed her master’s in Sociology/Criminal Justice from Saint Joseph’s University with the thought that she would go on to medical school and become a forensic pathologist. That didn’t happen either, though.
But the career she finally did settle on — as an assistant professor in the Physician Assistant (PA) Studies program at Salus University — suits her.
“I started looking around for careers because I still wanted to be in the medical arena,” said McCormick, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to complete four years of medical school plus a residency and fellowship. “I had always seen a PA growing up and knew about it, but never really knew anything beyond that. I started looking into it and that’s how I found the PA path.”
She applied and was accepted into the PA program at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, which at the time was under the direction of Donna Agnew, MSPAS, PA-C, DFAAPA.
After graduation from Arcadia, McCormick worked full-time in emergency medicine and pediatric emergency medicine for about a year and then transitioned into working part-time at the same hospitals. While working clinically, she began supervising PA students, medical students, and even high school vocational students which prompted her to enter the world of PA education.
In 2018, she accepted a position at Salus, working for Agnew, who by that time had moved from Arcadia to be the director of the Salus PA program. Agnew recently departed the Salus program to pursue another position.
“One of the biggest reasons that I wanted to work at Salus was because it was a graduate university. I had spent enough time (five years) in the undergraduate world to know what that was like,” said McCormick, who is currently pursuing her doctoral degree. “And, I wanted to try things in a university that only had graduate students. That was appealing. There’s a different level of commitment when you’re talking about people spending a tremendous amount of money for a program that really sets them up for a career.”
She said her position at Salus has provided her an opportunity to work with a close-knit group of people in the PA department, people who she not only knows professionally but also knows more personally than she would in a larger institution.
Like it did for everyone, the pandemic affected McCormick’s teaching approach quite a bit considering she primarily works in the clinical phase of the program. But she hopes students have been able to turn the ordeal into a positive moving forward.
“I’d like to think they’ll be better PAs for this experience. But only time will tell. It’s definitely beneficial for them to have had some kind of exposure in disaster and telemedicine,” she said. “Everything just got completely up-ended and we all had to adapt. So, I think it’s definitely tested their level of flexibility and resilience, and that can only help them.”
Although joining a professional ballet company didn’t pan out as a career for McCormick — she chose to walk away because professional dancers don’t have career longevity and are often retired by the age of 40, earlier if they become injured — when she’s not in the academic world she has been able to channel that interest in dancing into other physical activities. She still takes open adult classes and now does a lot of high-intensity cardio workouts at the gym, including things like HIIT, kickboxing, and weightlifting.
She and her husband Mike Schiralli also like to travel and hope to get back into that as the pandemic restrictions continue to ease.
A self-proclaimed “Disney nut,” McCormick admits she knows a “stupid amount” of Disney trivia, about Walt Disney himself and his creations of Disneyland and Disney World. Although her favorite original character is Mickey, one of her favorite Disney movies is “Beauty and the Beast,” so much so that her wedding gown was “influenced” by Belle’s ball gown in the movie. (She is quick to point out, though, that no, her wedding dress was not yellow and didn’t look like a cartoon.)
She believes her Salus students see her as closer to them in age than maybe some of the other faculty members.
“That will eventually go away, but for now, I’m trying to use it to my advantage,” said McCormick. “I do think that for some of them, that makes it a little bit easier for them to come to me vs. going to some of the more senior faculty members. It wasn’t all that long ago that I was in their shoes.”
She added that the recorded lectures, which have been forced by the pandemic and utilized by the PA program for a little more than a year now, don't capture the same things that instructors can get face-to-face in the classroom.
“You can’t read your audience because you can’t see your audience,” said McCormick. “The flip side is it has been nice, now that we’re returning to campus, to work with the students in smaller groups because we have them divided into pods to maintain social distancing requirements. We’re training them to go out and treat patients and they need to lay hands on people in order to be strong clinicians.” She added, “The ability to conduct a thorough and efficient history, coupled with a technically proficient physical exam, and solid communication skills, are some of the most important lessons we can teach our students.”