For Katie Sorensen, M.S.P.A.’10, PA-C, precepting students brings joy “to a whole new level” in her career. Sorensen has been a physician assistant (PA) in general surgery for 10 years, currently practicing at St. Luke’s Regional Health System in Duluth, MN.
There, Sorensen precepts an average of seven to eight students per year for four- to six-week rotations. So far in her career, she has precepted about 80 students. With her students, she covers suturing and clinical questions together in the operating room.
“Watching students gain confidence in their abilities and making huge improvements in just a few weeks is such a reward,” she says. “I’m the first to admit I’m not considered an ‘easy’ preceptor. I push students out of their comfort zones early on and have high expectations.”
For her commitment to that cause, she received the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA)/Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) Preceptor of the Year Award. It honors a preceptor who demonstrates exemplary service in the clinical education of PA students as a mentor, role model and instructor; and furthers the image of PAs by exemplifying the PA profession’s philosophy of providing accessible, quality health care.
Sorensen has been completely dedicated to teaching and mentoring students over the past 10 years and has a student by her side about 90 percent of the time. After graduating from the DMU PA program in 2010, she began precepting students just one year later.
“I have a way of bringing myself back to my days as a PA student on surgery rotation. I know surgery is the rotation students are typically most anxious about,” Sorensen says. “I can still remember my own thoughts and fears. I know many questions students have before they ask.”
Sorensen’s path to becoming a PA began in high school, after a career project inspired her to pursue a career in medicine. She became a certified nursing assistant while still in high school and from there, took every opportunity she could to gain health care experience – which reaffirmed her decision to become a PA.
PAs, Sorensen says, are “excellent patient advocates” who help patients feel well cared for. For her, the most rewarding part of being a PA is being “part of the cure”
“In surgery we may help patients become pain-free after years of suffering and remove cancer or large tumors to help cure them. I’ve had patients tell me the operation I was just a huge part of gave them their life back,” she says. “I enjoy seeing patients get well and leave the hospital, then seeing them back a couple weeks later when things have normalized more for them. It’s nice to see them in their ‘normal clothes’!”
Outside of her day-to-day practice, Sorensen is a guest lecturer at the St. Scholastica PA program and a suture session instructor for University of Minnesota Medical School students. To make an impact on students beyond those she precepts, she created an Instagram account that now has more than 12,000 followers. Through quizzes, instructional videos, helpful hints and personal responses, she helps students prepare and have a successful experience during their surgery rotation.
“I admire my students and I know they certainly make me a better PA,” she says. “They teach me as much as I teach them. I will continue to be the preceptor I needed most when I was a student.”
This article was published on the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) website on May 26, 2021, and is excerpted with permission. Sarah Blugis is the communications manager at the AAPA. Connect with Katie Sorenson on Instagram @just_a_pa.