January 17, 2019

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The Path from Dietitian to Physician Assistant

Tamara Berg, PA Student at ACMCTamara Berg—formerly Tamara Hein, she recently got married—was a dietitian at ACMC in Willmar until she decided to go to school to become a physician assistant (PA). Now she’s back completing her clinical rotations.

She first got the idea of going back to school several years ago while working with Teri Larson, a former physician assistant in oncology. Teri earned her Master’s degree at the University of North Dakota (UND), and while attending school, she mentioned to Tamara that she should look into continuing her education.

But as a busy mom, dietitian and adjunct professor through Kaplan University, she wasn’t sure she was ready to add another job as student to that list. After teaching classes for the online nutrition degree program through Kaplan University, she realized if she could teach online, she could learn that way, too. She became confident she could handle getting an online education, while juggling a busy schedule.  Tamara made plans to complete her pre-requisites and apply to UND’s physician assistant program when her youngest daughter—now a junior in college—graduated high school. Just like that she was a student again.

“’I never expected my daughter and I would be filing for financial aid together,” Tamara laughed.

Before she graduates, Tamara has 47 weeks of clinical rotations to complete.  Her first rotation was with ACMC-Willmar family medicine providers Dr. Shelly Staska and Gene Beavers, PA-C. She also spent some time with Dr. Timothy Pieh in ophthalmology, Dr. Jon Peterson in podiatry and the radiology department.   She’s been training with Dr. Staska, physician assistants Gene Beavers, Priscilla Willander and Jim Nedrud, nurse practitioner Lucy Brink and Dr. David Swanson.

“I was really excited to be able to do my clinical rotations at ACMC because of the quality healthcare and variety of specialists at this clinic. I’ve been fortunate to work with some really great healthcare specialists who are not only compassionate, but have excellent patient care skills. I’ve learned so much that I can’t begin to quantify how beneficial working with them has been,” she said.

Going into this experience, she knew that life would be busy. With 32 hours a week in the clinic, a full course load, and studying for boards, her experience as a dietitian has proved to be invaluable in her pursuit to become a physician assistant.

“Working as a dietitian and diabetes educator was a great background for me as a PA student.  Learning how to work with patients and work on a multi-disciplinary team has been great help. Plus understanding ACMC’s electronic medical records and having experience with dictation has also helped my transition from provider to PA student,” she said.

When she graduates next May, Tamara will officially be a family medicine physician assistant. She hopes her background in diabetes education and weight control can one day be incorporated into her practice.

“Change can be scary, but every step I’ve taken so far to become a physician assistant has been worth it. I can’t wait to walk across that stage in May and see my family in the audience, supporting me as I finally achieve my dream of becoming a physician assistant,” she said.