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Spotlight: Physician Assistant Jonathan Berger bridges gaps in patient care

To mark National Physician Assistant Week (Oct. 6-12), we profiled PA Jonathan Berger, who is part of our thoracic surgery care team.
To mark National Physician Assistant Week (Oct. 6-12), we profiled PA Jonathan Berger, who is part of the University of Minnesota Health thoracic surgery care team.
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Was your care at the University of Minnesota Medical Center exceptional? Chances are Physician Assistant Jonathan Berger—or another PA like him—played a critical role in ensuring that you received the best possible experience.

To mark National Physician Assistant Week (Oct. 6-12), we profiled Berger, who is part of our thoracic surgery care team. Berger bridges gaps in patient care, and is very grateful for the opportunity to care for patients during vulnerable times.

Why are you passionate about your position?
I think the reason anyone goes into medicine is they have a strong passion to help others. When looking for a career, I felt that taking care of a patient population with substantial medical problems would be the best way to allow me to make a significant impact. I primarily provide postoperative care for thoracic surgery patients. Many of the patients have either undergone a biopsy for a potential cancer or have just had a malignant tumor removed. In this highly vulnerable setting, kindness and compassion often have a very strong effect. I am very grateful for the opportunity to care for patients during this very vulnerable time and it makes for both a very challenging and very rewarding career.

How does your work as a physician assistant fit into the larger structure of the care team? In what ways do you, and others in a similar role, affect the overall patient experience?
My role is to ensure stability and quality during the postoperative phase of a patient’s care. While receiving care at an academic institution has many benefits, one of the drawbacks can be some fragmentation of care as surgeons are pulled in many different directions and residents rotate throughout many services and don’t always have targeted training to take care of one specific patient population. Frequently, the surgeons are wrapped up in a long day in clinic or are involved in 10-12 hours of surgery for the day, while residents on service may be coming off of an overnight shift or in an education session. In this scenario it is difficult to find someone with experience to immediately come and evaluate a patient if the need arises, unless someone like a PA is around to bridge the gap. Patients appreciate this prompt attention to their needs, which is especially necessary when they are in pain after surgery.

Learn more about our Thoracic and Esophageal Surgery program at University of Minnesota Medical Center.

What is one of your favorite memories from your job?
My favorite memories are of our most critically ill patients leaving the hospital healthier and stronger than when they arrived. I remember a patient who arrived from an outside hospital 40 days after an esophagectomy, after which he had serious complications. Initially we did not know how, when, or if he would ever leave the hospital, but after several weeks in the ICU and intermediate care units, he was able to leave the hospital much healthier than he arrived and presumably cancer free.

What do you love about the University of Minnesota Health community?
I most appreciate the University of Minnesota Health community for its commitment to education and the advancement of medicine. I enjoy learning from the staff, residents, and other providers, and very much enjoy teaching as well. I also am grateful to be part of an organization dedicated to research. More than once I have gone to a medical reference to research a topic and found the item that I was reading was authored at least in part by someone from our institution.

Tell us one surprising or interesting fact about your work as a PA.
My wife, Jennifer, is a physician assistant in family practice and that was my initial exposure to the occupation. We care for very different populations, but it makes for great dinner time discussions (HIPAA-compliant, of course). Last Thanksgiving, my grandmother had a coughing episode after eating some of her turkey dinner. After the episode, she said she wondered how it happened, to which our 3-year-old daughter replied by explaining, “Grandma Dorothy, your turkey just tried to go down your trachea instead of your esophagus!” Our dinner guests were quite entertained.

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