Driven to Care: My PA Journey
I’ve always been driven by strong Midwestern values: family, religion, community. I believe in working hard and doing the right thing. Like most of us in healthcare, I have a story about how I stumbled upon my love of medicine and caring for others. My journey to becoming a Physician Assistant to founding my own dermatology practices began in a small town in Wisconsin where I grew up.
You see, when I was a teen I struggled with severe acne. Being from such a little community, I never knew there were specialists actually trained to treat this at times heart-breaking condition. When I went to college, I met my first dermatologist and it was a life altering experience for me. I went from someone who wasn’t comfortable looking in the mirror to having skin that I was proud to show off! My first experience with this dermatology thing opened my eyes to how powerful this practice of medicine could be.
A short time later, while working as an exchange student in Belize in Central America, is when my new found love and passion for dermatology truly exploded. I saw infectious diseases, parasitic infections, stingray bites and even cellulitis due to Third World country living conditions. I became fascinated with all disorders of the skin, hair and nails and how to treat the whole person – and not just a symptom.
This incredible experience, being a minority in a Third World country, seeing how the families were connected and helped one another, also solidified the basic foundation for how I live my life and care for my patients today.
After returning to the states I immediately enrolled in school to become a PA. I had found my calling! After completing my education I moved to Phoenix and began working for a large group practice.
I soon discovered, thought, how many patients were treated like a number. My vision was one of a more personalized approach and a higher standard of patient care. Quite frankly, I wanted to do it my way, heartfelt and relationship-driven, and I wanted to take care of people regardless of their ability to pay.
After being a PA for 10 years, I look a leap of faith in 2010 and opened my first practice, Ahwatukee Skin & Laser, on my own but with the support of a physician team. I searched to find the best Mohs and dermatological surgeons and other providers who shared my Midwest values for compassionate and individualized care.
I felt it was also imperative for us to be a full-service cosmetic, medical and surgical dermatology practice. The last thing I wanted to do is have to send patients outside of our four walls to providers they didn’t know to get their skin cancer or other conditions treated.
Having this amazing group of providers is what allows us to use a team approach to patient care. Every day we are constantly researching the latest treatments and preventative measures, including skin cancer surveillance and other types of innovative exams and programs, to care for the wide variety of skin disorders.
Before long, we were getting word of mouth endorsements by patients and their families. We have been blessed to have been voted the #1 dermatology practice in local polls several years running.
Seeing the success of my first practice I saw opportunity in Sun City West, an area with an under-served older population. I branched out to create Sun City Dermatology in 2018 to respond to the need for state-of-the-art skin cancer and other care in that part of the Valley.
Enter 2020: This year the surprise of COVID-19 has dramatically impacted our practices and everyone in healthcare. When the Coronavirus came upon the scene we immediately implemented CDC recommendations and other measures to assure the safety of our patients and our staff. We had to keep our clinics open to treat our skin cancer patients.
Then something funny happened. Suddenly, we had people donating masks and bringing us food.
Perhaps the community’s kindness was a repayment of sorts for our work sponsoring local programs. We’ll probably never know the precise reason but we are so incredibly grateful for the massive outpouring of support.
Going forward, we know that we will have more hurdles to face as we weather the storm of COVID and it’s not going to be easy. Our commitment, though, to excellence in dermatologic care will never waiver. Every day we’ll still be looking at what we can do better and how we can enhance the patient experience, learning their names, knowing their dog’s name and really giving back to the community as a whole.
Thanks to everyone who has been with us on this incredible journey. To other healthcare workers, I care for you, too. Feel free to reach out to me directly for self-care tips or questions. We truly are in this together.
By Sarah Neumann, MMS-PA-C, Physician Assistant
Founder of Ahwatukee Skin & Laser and Sun City Dermatology
More information: ahwatukeeskincare.com