PA alumna gets big break leading orthopaedics clinic
By Styliana Resvanis
When Heather Dempsey, MPAS ’14, graduated from the UF College of Medicine School of Physician Assistant Studies last spring, she knew she wanted to work in Gainesville — and more specifically, at UF Health — to maintain her Gator ties and be near her husband, a facilities coordinator at UF RecSports.
So when she received an offer to lead a new daytime clinic at the UF Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Institute, she jumped at the chance.
“I’m a Gator — I bleed orange and blue,” said Dempsey, 26, who also received her undergraduate degree from UF. “I love this town, so to be able to work at UF Health where I studied and where I’ve been living was an amazing opportunity.”
Not only did she land a position in her desired location, but she’s also taken on the unique responsibility of heading a new clinic as a physician assistant.
As the UF OrthoCare Daytime physician assistant, Dempsey works as a one-woman operation with support from the clinic’s medical director — a College of Medicine graduate — and other department physicians and their teams. In a typical day, she sees about seven walk-in and scheduled patients and consults with that day’s supervising physician to come up with treatment plans.
The clinic opened in November and stemmed from a need to create an extension of the OrthoCare after-hours clinic, which began several years ago as an effort to provide quick and easy access to care for patients with acute orthopaedic injuries during evening and weekend hours.
“Injuries don’t make appointments,” said Bryan Prine Jr., M.D. ’04, a sports medicine physician and medical director of OrthoCare. “The ultimate goal is to provide enough access to see every orthopaedic complaint in our community and surrounding area.”
Prine added that the clinic took cues from other orthopaedic centers across the country and sought out a physician assistant as the first point of contact for patients. He said PAs can conduct thorough physical exams, gather necessary X-rays, decide the urgency of an injury and direct the patient to the proper specialist.
Dempsey’s first foray into orthopaedics came before her new job; in fact, she participated in a one-month rotation as a student and later completed two months of on-the-job training, during which time she gained experience with various departments within the institute, including sports medicine, pediatrics and trauma and joints.
“She’s an independent learner and a self-starter,” Prine said. “She’s constantly trying to better herself and constantly trying to build her knowledge base and comfort level with orthopaedic problems.”
As a student, Dempsey was involved in various college activities, serving as vice president of her class and tutoring fellow physician assistants in-training. She also participated in the groundbreaking ceremony of the College of Medicine’s George T. Harrell, M.D., Medical Education Building and sat on a student panel at the college’s 2013 Alumni Weekend.
“There’s a lot of learning to be had and a lot of amazing experiences,” Dempsey said of her time at the School of PA Studies. “It’s over in a blink.”
Dempsey views her new position as a challenge, a chance to grow as a provider and as a way to keep her connected to her alma mater.
“It’s definitely intense to jump into a clinic that’s never been done before as a new PA,” she said, “but there’s a lot of support here, and they’re definitely invested in helping me learn. I’m never alone.”