It may be too soon to tell, but it’s possible that 23-month-old Fiona Fischer could follow in her mother’s footsteps and pursue a career in healthcare education.

PA student and childHer mom, Michelle Fischer, MMS ‘09, PA-C, is an assistant professor in the Physician Assistant (PA) Studies program at Salus University and one of the instructors in the Pediatric Workshop, a hands-on learning experiential learning component of the physical diagnosis course first year PA students are participating in this summer.

According to her mom, young Fiona isn’t fond of going to the pediatrician’s office and she isn’t shy about sounding off about it when her personal space is invaded. That not only makes her a typical kid, but also the perfect patient for the Pediatric Workshop Lab. During this lab many PA students receive their first exposure to examining children, an important part of the PA training at the University.

“Kids are at various developmental stages and stages of growth, so there are a lot of different maneuvers, techniques and strategies that we use to help kids stay comfortable during the exam. These techniques also help the practitioner perform as thorough of an exam as possible,” said Kathryn Stroup, MD, a pediatrician in a North Philadelphia practice who was brought in to help train the PA students during the pediatric lab. “When you have a toddler, who is kind of squirmy or wiggly, or an older child who is a little bit nervous, there are a lot of tried and true maneuvers to help get a good exam while keeping everybody comfortable.”

PA students examining childrenIn that regard, Fiona was an invaluable asset to the students, as were the other children who participated in the lab: Karson, 5, and Connor Orr, 8, sons of Cara Orr, MS, MMS, PA-C, assistant professor in the PA program; and Juliet DiToro, 8, daughter of Rachel DiToro, MSPAS, PA-C, associate professor in the PA program.

According to Fischer, this type of experiential learning is where the students get to practice taking histories and performing physical exams on children. “This lab is really about getting hands-on exposure to pediatric patients to help prepare students for clinical rotations and their roles as future clinicians,” said Fischer.

Although it was her first exposure to children in a healthcare setting, Nikita Pendse ‘22PA, was a summer camp counselor in high school and has experience with children age six.

“I actually have always liked working with kids,” said Pendse, from Hillsborough, New Jersey. “I kind of have some experience with children, but not in a healthcare setting. Children can be difficult to work with. You just try to do what you need to do as quickly as possible and be done.”

Dr. Stroup emphasized to the students that examining children can be anxiety-producing for healthcare providers, especially those who aren’t around children on a regular basis. And, the fact is, a healthcare provider can do everything perfectly and the kids may still get upset.

“I just let everybody know that it’s normal to feel nervous and it’s normal for the children, especially little ones, to get a little fidgety or even cry,” she said. “That’s not necessarily a reflection of them as a healthcare provider, it’s just really common.”

PA students examining childrenCorey Webster ‘22PA believes this experience is invaluable and helps prepare the students before examining children in the field.

“This gives us a sense of actually how it’s done in an office,” said Webster, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “There are subtle skills on how to examine a child that differ from an adult. You kind of have to examine things a little bit differently. You have to specifically gauge the child’s temperament.”

He added that his experience in the Pediatrics Lab could prompt him to follow a career path into pediatrics.

“I could see myself in pediatrics. I have a lot of interests and I definitely want to experience a lot of different things once I start my clinical rotations,” he said. “But I already enjoy working with kids so getting into pediatrics would not be a bad thing.”