McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

McMaster PA grad becomes assistant dean

Published: May 5, 2016
Kristen Burrows
Kristen Burrows

Kristen Burrows was developing infection prevention and control materials halfway around the world in the Republic of Palau in 2008 when she came to a realization — something was missing and she needed a change.

An epidemiologist since 2005, Burrows had worked as a public health consultant, both for the Public Health Agency of Canada and Palau's Ministry of Health, writing reports and conducting investigations on foodborne pathogen prevention programs and infectious disease outbreaks. But she felt she missed out on providing patient care.

"I felt like I was always working with data and missing out on the patient experience," said Burrows. "I wondered what symptoms the patient presented with, what investigations were ordered, and how the patient was managed."

So in 2008, Burrows, already with a Bachelor and a Master's of Science, enrolled in McMaster University's newly established Bachelor of Health Sciences, Physician Assistant Program.

And now, six years after she was a part of the inaugural graduation class, she's been appointed the program's assistant dean.

On the career transition and her new role, Burrows said: "Becoming a physician assistant allowed me to finally connect my interests in medicine, healthcare delivery and public health with direct patient care.

"I am intrigued by the opportunity to guide this program and profession so early on in its development. There are so many avenues to be explored and advanced — education, career development, research and more — given the infancy of the physician assistant role in Canada."

Burrows has seen a lot of transition for physician assistants (PA) since she graduated in 2010. McMaster was the first school to launch a PA education program in Ontario, and when Burrows finished school and entered into the workforce, she understood why the profession would face some resistance.

"The introduction of PAs happened quickly and it made sense that civilian PAs, graduating from a new program, would have to earn the respect of other health care providers, patients and physicians unfamiliar with the PA role."

Over the past few years however, Burrows started to see improved PA integration and increased reliance on the PA role. PAs are valued by their supervising physicians and interdisciplinary health care teams and well accepted by patients in a variety of health care settings across the province.

She herself has worked as a PA at both St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton and a private dermatology clinic. The assistant clinical professor is now working on a PhD in Health Research Methodology at McMaster, studying the role of PAs in Ontario, so she has both a practical and theoretical outlook on the profession.

That was one of many traits that made Burrows an attractive candidate for the assistant dean position, says Dr. Alan Neville, associate dean of health professional education.

"Kristen is well-versed in all issues related to the PA profession in Ontario and across the country, and she has remained active in our program.  She is impressive in her understanding of the PA role in health care delivery as well as research and education," he said.

Now a bit of an expert when it comes to change, both in her career and her field, Burrows looks forward to guiding the program that helped her chart a new, more satisfying career path.

And with the role of the PA now more understood in Ontario's health care system, she says this is an exciting time for future PA students.

"As our role continues to grow and expand in the province, PA's help improve patient access to safe and cost-effective care, and contribute to interdisciplinary patient management — all important goals of healthcare delivery in Ontario."

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