PA alumna helps students understand “what it’s all about” to be a provider

Terra Goldsberry, a 2011 graduate of DMU’s physician assistant (PA) program, leaned toward a health care career early, completing certified nursing assistant classes in high school and working in a nursing home. Now on the psychiatry team at Orchard Place, a Des Moines-based nationally recognized leader in children’s mental health and juvenile justice services, she also is a highly valued preceptor in part because of her lifelong propensity to “always be a helper.”

“That’s how I show that I love and care,” she says.

Faculty and students of the DMU PA program appreciate that, and they showed it by honoring her with the 2021 Preceptor Award in June. Terra “is very down-to-earth and has a lot of great experience,” says one student. “She is very good about including us as students and challenging us in a nonconfrontational way. She is a great teacher.” Says another: “I learned so much about mental health, and I can’t wait to continue learning and applying that information to each patient that I see moving forward.”

Terra Goldsberry, M.S.P.A.S.’11, PA-C, left, accepts the DMU PA Program Preceptor Award from Angela Grundmeyer, M.P.A.S., PA-C, DMSc, assistant professor in the program.

Terra first mentored medical students in 2014, when she was in a neurosurgery practice. When she began working in mental health care, she also began precepting students on a monthly basis.

“Once students get into clinical experiences, they’re ready to learn,” she says. “They are very helpful to me – they’re writing notes, asking patients questions. My patients love when I have students.”

In addition to those benefits, Terra is willing to serve as a preceptor because, as she says, “I was there once” as a PA student. It appeals to her interests in hands-on teaching and helping.

“There are so many clinical pearls you hear in the didactic part of the program, but when you actually see it in clinicals, it really sticks,” she says. “That prepares students to be providers. That was such a valuable time for me; this is what it’s all about.”

She also enjoys sharing her specialty with students. “When I was a DMU student, psychiatry definitely was not on my radar,” she says, “but I love my job now. Most of our patients have experienced trauma. We take a team approach to their care.”

As a preceptor, Terra asks students questions early in the rotation to gauge their interest in psychiatry. Regardless of whether they are, however, she wants them to understand its relevance across health care.

“Every person carries their psychology with them. We talk about how important that is even if they aren’t interested in psychiatry,” she says.

Most students she mentors, however, get vested in their clinical experiences at Orchard Place because it serves children, adolescents and young adults.

“PA students have no shortage of empathy. That’s why I really like working with them,” she says.

That bond may have been fostered by the very nature of the PA program, which, at 25 months in length, is intense, highly interactive and hands-on.

“Our class was a very tight-knit group of people, so supportive and united,” Terra recalls. “How amazing it was that we didn’t know each other when we began, but we all came together and became lifelong friends who knew what we were all going through.”

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