I Think I’ve Found My Niche

By:   June 18, 2019

Prior to entering the MEDEX Northwest physician assistant program with Seattle Class 51, Jenna Warren considered going into music production and becoming a singer/songwriter.

“I was writing a lot, singing a lot, in the music studio a lot,” she tells us.

From elementary school onward Jenna was involved in all kinds of music. Growing up, she played the piano and saxophone. In college, she was in the Jazz Ensemble at UW.

“I have no formal musical education, but it’s something that’s always been a part of my life. Whether music or dancing, which I also do, the artistic side of me has always been there.”

Several of Jenna Warren’s original songs that she wrote, produced and performed can be found on Soundcloud.

Over time Jenna decided that music probably wasn’t the best career choice and turned her focus to medicine.

Without a precedent in medicine, Jenna Warren carefully plotted her pathway to becoming a physician assistant.  It was while working as an interim athletic trainer at Federal Way High School that her future possibilities came into focus.

“I grew up doing a lot of athletics and worked at my old high school,” she says. “I’d do simple things like ankle wrapping,” Jenna says. “They needed someone reliable to stand in and perform first aid.”

There was a doctor who would oversee a number of the high school games and he informed Jenna about the PA route.

“Dr. Coulter knew that I already had my bachelor’s degree,” she says. “He thought that PA school would be a good opportunity for me to go into medicine, have a good position and gain some autonomy.”

Up to that point, Jenna had never even heard of a physician assistant, so she started to do some research.

“I got really interested in it, and then I took my prerequisites. I basically started from the very beginning.”

Itanna Murphy, PA-C with Jenna Warren of MEDEX Seattle Class 51 at Swedish Medical Center First Hill.
Jenna Warren does intake with a patient complaining of knee pain.
Jenna examines the patient's knee for signs of arthritis and injury.
Itanna Murphy, PA-C enters the room to confirm Jenna's findings.
Itanna Murphy, PA-C discusses a diagnostic technique with Jenna.
The patient points out the most troublesome area of pain.

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It’s more common for individuals focused on PA school to come from prior medical experience, whether it as a medical assistant, EMT, nurse or any other number of certified roles. After all, entrance into MEDEX Northwest requires a minimum of 2,000 patient contact hours. In addition to the academic prerequisites, Jenna needed clinical hours before applying to PA school.

“I got hired on as a nurse assistant at Swedish Medical Center First Hill in Seattle and worked there for a year and a half,” she says. That’s where she met Itanna Murphy, PA-C, an alumnus of MEDEX Seattle Class 38 from 2006.

“She influenced me a lot,” Jenna says. “I got really interested in hospital medicine, and thought that’s what I want to do.”

As a nurse assistant at Swedish, Jenna became engaged in the intricacies of people’s medical problems and trying to solve them.

“I like the puzzle aspect of it, trying to understand what’s going on and then finding the right intervention to help them. Potentially, patients can become better or at least manage their diseases better. I thought that was really interesting.”

With the proper prerequisites and sufficient patient hours under her belt, Jenna applied to ten PA schools. She got one interview—at MEDEX Northwest—and was accepted into the program.

“It worked out for me,” she says. “It was perfect.”

When we caught up with Jenna she was assigned to Swedish Medical Center First Hill for an inpatient rotation under her trusted mentor, Itanna Murphy, PA-C. Together they demonstrated an easy working relationship, alternating between humor and a get-it-done demeanor.

Jenna Warren with Itanna Murphy, PA-C

Jenna’s previous rotation in February was general surgery at Kaiser Permanente in Tacoma.

“I didn’t think I was going to like it, but I ended up liking it a ton,” she exclaims. “I like the hands-on aspect of general surgery, which has always interested me.” Kaiser allows their PAs to do minor procedures.

While at Kaiser the medical team recognized Jenna’s abilities and asked her to apply. She’ll be eligible to work as a PA-C once her education is complete and certification is acquired. “They’re hiring within the next six months so I actually ended up applying. I was flattered that they thought that I would be a good addition to their team. So, I’m waiting to see if something even comes out of that.”

Now, at the tail end of her time at MEDEX, Jenna is doing a dual preceptorship at Providence Saint Peter in Olympia, WA. Two days a week she’s part of a family medicine residency, and three days a week she’s working urgent care at the hospital. This echoes her emergency medicine rotation last November at Swedish Edmonds Hospital. Before she started her clinical year, Jenna thought that she wanted to work in emergency medicine.

“To me, one month isn’t a very long time to learn everything you need to know about emergency medicine,” she says. “I haven’t completely made up my mind about whether or not I want to do that. So, I think that these four months in urgent care will help me gain more experience and help me decide where I want to end up.”

With her arts background and medical knowledge, Jenna brings a blend of soft skills with hard skills.

“I wouldn’t say more so than anybody else, but I think it helps having different kind of skills,” Jenna says. “Since I’ve dabbled in so many different realms I find that this allows me to identify with patients on a different level. I can talk about things besides what’s going wrong with them. There have been times where I sang to patients and they loved that. It brings a different aspect to care, which I really enjoy.”

In February, Jenna returned to MEDEX Seattle campus for her CRAs- Clinical Reasoning Assessment.
For the CRAs, students meet with a model patient who presents scripted medical symptoms.
Jenna walks through a HEENT exam- head, ears, eyes, nose and throat.
As part of the mock exam Jenna checks lung and heart sounds.
As the CRAs are graded, Jenna presents her summary findings to a MEDEX proctor and obtains feedback that allow her to sharpen her skills.
Jenna during casting day in the MEDEX didactic classroom.
Jenna with her parents.
Jenna with her family over dinner.
Friends forever: Sarah Larson, Jenna Warren, Jake Collins and Brina Sych of MEDEX Seattle Class 51.
Jake Collins, Jenna Warren, Alexandra Dammen, Brina Sych and Sarah Larson of Seattle Class 51.
Classmates Jake Collins and Jenna Warren.

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We ask Jenna if she might acquire the moniker of The Singing PA, much like Tony Adkins, PA-C, a graduate of MEDEX Spokane 12, went on to be celebrated in his career as The Dancing PA.

“Maybe. That’s always a possibility,” she says slyly.

This change in Jenna’s career direction is playing out well in her family, too.

“I’ve always been the free spirit in my family,” Jenna says. “I think that they weren’t surprised that it took me some time to decide what I wanted to do. I was in education for a while. I was a paraeducator and I volunteered with AmeriCorps. It’s the teaching aspect of medicine that I like a lot. This carries over from my earlier carriers as we’re always trying to explain to patients in ways they can understand. And I’ve always been interested in science. So, it’s all coming together. I think I’ve found my niche.”

Dennis Raymond is the Communications Manager for MEDEX Northwest in Seattle, Washington. He can be reached at medexcom@uw.edu.