“I think there are so much more opportunities to utilize the PA services for patients, especially with telehealth and within rural places.”Jo A. Hughes DMSc, PA-C, CAQ-PSY
This month’s #IamNCAPA Member Highlight is Jo Hughes, a Michigan native and Greensboro Physician Assistant (PA) in Psychiatry. Jo spoke with the NCAPA about how she found the PA profession and grew to love the field of psychiatric medicine after having had a long-term career in emergency medicine.
Jo attended Western Michigan University, earning an undergraduate degree in Business. “Becoming a PA was a second career to me. What had started some of my interest in medicine was having my son, who unfortunately passed away,” she shared with the NCAPA. “He had trisomy 18, which is a genetic disorder that is usually life-ending in utero.” She then had her daughter, who has Sotos syndrome. “Today, I have an adult child with an intellectual and developmental disability (IDD). She had had a lot of medical ups and downs.” Having to navigate all of that led Jo to think about pursuing medicine. After moving to Greensboro, North Carolina and having her third child, she realized her yearning for a career in medicine. “Becoming a Physician Assistant spoke to me, and I loved the medical model of the profession.”
After working as both a full-time mom and an EMT, Jo attended Wake Forest University’s PA program and started her career as a PA in emergency medicine. “I was in emergency medicine for four and a half years… Emergency medicine gets in your blood. It gets in your skin, and it becomes a part of you. In that process, I also started doing a little bit of part-time psychiatric work. Then, I ended up moving to psychiatry full-time and I’ve been here almost 11 years,” she stated. Currently, she treats a variety of psychiatric illnesses in children, adolescents, and adults in an outpatient setting. Her primary work is with individuals, both children and adults, with IDD as well as autism spectrum disorders. “I did telehealth before it was really a thing through rural hospitals in outlying communities in North Carolina, where I would do telehealth ER psychiatry consultations,” Jo shared. Additionally, she is working for a nonprofit organization serving at-risk, low-income children and adolescents needing psychiatry services.
The NCAPA asked Jo what her ultimate favorite thing was about being a PA. “I think it’s what we all go into it for, which is helping people and having that opportunity to do so,” she answered. Speaking on her specific specialty of psychiatry, she said, “There’s so much of the mind that we don’t know. I find psychiatry to be very challenging, especially within the children and adolescent population. I have a soft spot for those with IDD. I am about quality of life and really trying to help caregivers understand what resources are available to them, where they can get them, and where they can find support. I am all about managing and using evidence-based practice to help mitigate these symptoms that are causing so much distress for the caregivers and their loved ones.”
When asked what she would be doing if she was not a PA, she immediately says, “I would be a neurobiologist. I’d be studying the brain and being in on the research. I get lost in the neuronal pathways of the brain and I find it all so fascinating.”
Jo and her husband also helped open and start A Special Blend, a nonprofit coffee shop in Greensboro that opened in 2018 with plans to expand to High Point, NC. “We are a nonprofit that employs intellectually and developmentally disabled adults in a coffee-house setting.”
On why she thinks NCAPA membership is valuable, she shares, “A colleague of mine started talking to me about the legislative piece that’s going on with PAs. I am a very big proponent of PAs having collaborative language. The legislative piece really drew me in. I am just yearning to learn more about what this work can do.”