Physician Assistant Kristi Kopacz, MPAS, PA-C, knows the importance of a tailored approach to weight loss for each individual.
Kopacz serves as a critical link between the surgical and non-surgical branches of the University of Minnesota Health Weight Loss Management and Surgery program. She partners with patients entering the program to help them make informed decisions about their weight loss path—whether that involves lifestyle changes or bariatric surgery.
We sat down with her to ask about her role and her passion for helping our weight loss patients achieve improvements in their health. Read more below:
Tell us about your current role with University of Minnesota Health.
I am a physician assistant. I have worked with University of Minnesota Health for about nine years in the weight loss surgery program. In the past year, I have started playing a key role in the weight loss management program. I now help coordinate care and treatments between the surgical and medical programs. I help patients manage their medications and I partner with them as they make and sustain healthy lifestyle changes. It’s a fun role! I enjoy serving as a link between the programs.
How do you partner with patients to achieve their weight loss goals?
We typically begin with an initial consultation. I collaborate with the patient right away so that we can find an appropriate treatment path together. Some patients are set on surgery, and others want to explore medical [non-surgical] weight management options. Sometimes, a patient and I discover together that surgery may not be his or her best option. From there, we help them get going down the right route. If surgery is an appropriate option, a patient still needs to lose some weight first. In those instances, I pair them with a dietitian, and sometimes prescribe medication to assist with the weight loss. All of our surgical patients must also undergo a psychiatric evaluation, no matter their treatment path.
What is your favorite part about your job? Any favorite memories?
I love seeing my patients put so much work into weight loss and achieving success! Even a small amount of weight loss can change a patient’s life. Recently, one of my patients chose a medical weight management treatment path. Even with 20 pounds of weight loss, she is now able breathe better and can get back to work as a nurse. I just enjoy seeing how excited my patients get when they see the results of their hard work. The physicians, nurses, dietitians, health coach and I help our patients make lifestyle changes so they can maintain a healthy weight. Often, obesity can affect more than one person in a family, so when our team helps a patient, we’re essentially helping to change the lifestyle of his or her family as well.
How do you determine the right path for each person?
Often, treatment of a patient involves both the medical and the surgical weight management programs, so the paths can be intertwined. We are an integrated program. At the initial consult, I perform a thorough review of the medical, surgical and psychological history of a patient and follow up with the patient’s primary care provider. The patient and I also discuss risks and benefits of available treatment options. We discuss which treatment path would be the best fit for him or her. My goal with every patient is to help him or her lose weight and improve overall wellness and health.
Do you have any advice for people struggling with weight loss?
None of these pathways are easy. It is important to remember that the weight loss journey takes time. Behavioral lifestyle changes are difficult. Many people become discouraged if they don’t see results right away. We have a multidisciplinary team and we can refer patients to other treatments or providers, including pool therapy, cardiac rehabilitation and psychologists. Some people try something once and don’t follow up. If one treatment isn’t effective or doesn’t meet your expectations, there are a lot of other things you can try. Following up is very important.