A Day in the Life of a Gastroenterology PA
How Alum Jeremy Bienenfeld Uses Skills Learned at Touro to Improve Quality of Life for His Patients
Did you know that over 60 million Americans suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) disorders annually? Luckily, there are people who have made it their life’s work to help patients dealing with health issues resulting from these debilitating diseases. Jeremy Bienenfeld, a newly-graduated PA from Touro’s School of Health Sciences (SHS) is one professional who is passionate about the GI field and empowering patients to live their best lives. We caught up with ’21 graduate Bienenfeld about his daily responsibilities as a PA at Digestive Disease Care in New Hyde Park, New York, and the vital skills he learned in the Touro classroom that he leverages daily to excel on the job.
Why are you passionate about a career in the medical field?
I knew from a very young age that I wanted to do something to help people improve their health. Growing up, I watched my father who is a podiatrist, and the way he cared for his patients and envied the relationships he built with them. I chose to pursue a career as a Physician Assistant because I felt that this role offers me the opportunity to develop meaningful connections with patients while serving as a critical member of the healthcare team.
I love working in gastroenterology because I have the chance to see different diseases in many vital organs in the body ranging from the esophagus, the stomach, the small intestine, the large intestine, and the rectum. I feel that I’m making a difference in this field daily as my patients come to me wanting answers that can explain their symptoms and I have the opportunity to engage in preventive care as I screen patients for colon, stomach or esophageal cancer. I also counsel them on diet and nutritional health, which can improve overall as well as cardiovascular health, and more.
Can you tell us a bit about what a day in your role as PA at Digestive Disease Care looks like?
After completing my clinical rotation in the gastro field, I knew this was where I wanted to work. While I only began in this role a few months ago, a typical day consists of checking on any lab work or imaging that was done prior to an appointment to see if anything urgent needs to be relayed to the patient. I look at the schedule to see the list of upcoming patient appointments and see how many consults and follow-ups we have scheduled. We usually have a team meeting every morning with our office manager to discuss which exam rooms will be used for which team and which medical assistants we will be working with, and we then get to work to start seeing our patients.
When meeting with a patient, I take detailed notes about their chief complaint, discuss their past medical history, and hear about their current medication regime. It’s very important to look at my patients’ total body issues to get the most accurate history. I then create a care plan with the patients and discuss it with them to ensure that patient and provider are on the same page. This is crucial as the patient is the most important person on the healthcare team. If I have any questions, I will run them by our attending physicians. The physician will then come into the room to reiterate the plan and we discuss it as a full team with the patient involved.
What specific skills did you learn in the Touro classroom that you’re now using as a practicing PA?
I’m so grateful that I went to Touro’s PA school in Manhattan. I interacted with many students from various PA schools on my rotations, and I saw that Touro focuses on bedside manner and patient care like no other college. While learning the actual medical techniques is important, it’s also crucial to remember that we are dealing with patients who are trusting us with their care.
Touro helped greatly to develop this mindset and mentality. Touro offers excellent training and truly cares about its students as well. The small class sizes enable us to receive personalized attention that is critical when learning and mastering important techniques and material. Touro SHS emphasizes that bedside manner is a priority, and the patient should always be the most important person in the room. During my training at Touro, we even engaged in exercises involving medical actors, who were portraying patients, so that we could fine-tune these skills and were ready to apply them upon entering the real world. That model of enhanced patient care will continue to stand out to me as I advance in my career. I still hear my professors’ voices in my head telling me what to look out for as well as key points when performing a physical exam on a patient.
What are your favorite and least favorite parts of being a PA?
My favorite parts of being a PA are being part of a dynamic team of providers and helping to facilitate the overall care of patients. I love being able to create a rapport and build trust with my patients. It’s a great feeling when you have seen a patient for a consult and they then call the office with a question and ask for me by name. It shows they were happy with the care I gave them and want to speak with me because we have built a mutual level of trust.
One of the more challenging aspects of my job is that it can sometimes be overwhelming as there are many patients to help. Some cases take longer than others and some patients may need more time as I explain a certain condition or medication to them.
How do you balance being a father of two (including a newborn) with a demanding job in the medical field?
Creating a work-life balance is a constant battle. While I need to care for my patients, I’m a firm believer that family always come first. Despite the fact that my particular job is 9-5 in an outpatient setting, sometimes the hours are longer. For example, if a patient is running late or has a more complex issue, their visit will take additional time and then I need to adjust my schedule on the fly. If I must give someone bad news based on something we found on a scan, I need to spend some extra time with them to break this sensitive news delicately. While there are days that I don’t get home until after my children are asleep for the night, having a support team of family and friends in place is vital. I cherish the quality time we do get to spend together and want my children to know that it’s crucial that they follow their dreams, as I did, even if it’s not easy.
Are there any Touro professors who left a lasting impression on you?
Touro College truly has amazing faculty. In fact, I’m still in contact with several Touro faculty members that I have met along the way as they’ve made a lasting impression and helped me get to where I am today.
The first is Professor Dana Bignami. Professor Bignami is a true role model to anyone who desires to become a PA. She believes in her students, even at times when they don’t believe in themselves. When I was struggling during certain parts of the didactic year. Professor Bignami took me under her wing and never gave up on me. We met countless times in her office to discuss key material, review exams, and talk about medicine in general. She played an integral role in helping me to become a PA and would not be where I am today without her.
The other faculty member that left an impression on me is Program Director Paula Boyle. She is the most accessible program director I’ve ever met, and she always goes the extra mile for her students. Director Boyle worked tirelessly to get us back to our clinical rotations when things were shut down due to the Covid pandemic, as she knew how integral these experiences were to our training.
She also took time out of her busy schedule to come in before classes began to host a physical diagnosis clinic. During those clinics, Director Boyle provided us with words of wisdom about performing physical exams and offered us invaluable tips that she has learned personally through her ongoing work as a practicing PA that I will never forget.