OSC Celebrates Physician Assistant Week! Meet Tonia Yocum, PA-C

Orthopaedic & Spine Center

Meet Tonia Yocum, Physician Assistant to Dr. Jeffrey R. Carlson. Tonia recently sat down with us to answer some questions about her career as a Physician Assistant. We think you will enjoy getting to know her!

Why did you decide to become a Physician Assistant? Since I was a child, I always knew that I wanted to work in the field of medicine. Maybe it had something to do with my mother and the influence she had on me as a child. As an operating room nurse manager (now retired), she used to come home and tell my sister and I the interesting stories of what happened during her day at the hospital. Sometimes the stories she told were very comical. Other times she would tell us, in a serious voice, about a very gravely ill patient for whom she had cared. Her stories fascinated me and sparked my imagination. I decided that I wanted to do something meaningful when I chose my life’s work, and that is why I chose to be a Physician’s Assistant.

Why did you choose to work with Dr. Carlson?
My first employer was a multi-specialty surgical practice in Alexandria, VA, where I was exposed to General Surgery, Plastic Surgery and some Spine Surgery. The other PAs really didn’t like Spine, but I did and soon I was the PA that they called for Spine. I knew I wanted to work with a Spine Surgeon and I started with Dr. Jeffrey Carlson in 2002. At first, we did a lot more General Orthopaedics, but as his Spine Practice grew, we started doing more and more Spine Care. Now, that is probably 90% of what we do.

What is your favorite part of the day in the office? I really enjoy interacting with the patients and the feeling that I get when they tell me I helped them feel better. I also enjoy hearing them report that they are able to get back to their normal routine and activities. Some cases are very complex and I spend a great deal of time with these patients and get to know them quite well. I love the overall good feeling I get when they give a heartfelt “thank you” for helping them feel better. I feel honored when the patients refer their family members to us for care. It makes me like feel a part of their family. I make a real difference in their lives.

Least favorite?
When the treatment plan doesn’t bring about the expected outcome for the patient or takes longer than expected, it can be frustrating for both me and the patient. That is difficult, but if the patient helps me to understand exactly what is going on and works with me, we usually can get to the outcome we both want.

What is your favorite aspect of surgery? I enjoy helping to put in the hardware (screws, plates, rods, knee prosthetics) I like the “construction” aspect of putting all of the pieces in and seeing how stable and strong I can help to make the patient’s body after surgery.

Least favorite? I don’t like infections and dealing with the ramifications of those in a surgical site. It makes the patient very sick and it is hard on them mentally and physically. Fortunately, we rarely see infections in our patients.

Does your job as a surgical PA make family life challenging? My job is very demanding and time-consuming, which can be difficult, but it is the career I chose and which I love. As a trade-off, I cannot commit to participation in organized activities that require me to be somewhere on a regularly scheduled basis. (Tonia chuckles) I support the family in their hobbies, and I do get to go for a walk in the woods or run occasionally, which I greatly enjoy.

What has changed most about your job since you started with Dr. Carlson? Wow, where do I start? In the office, EMR (Electronic Medical Records) has made us more efficient. Using them was challenging at first, but now I can’t imagine life without them. Transitioning to digital x-rays from film was huge (I am dating myself!) and being able to access images from a computer is wonderful. In surgery, surgical hardware is always improving, becoming more user-friendly, longer-lasting and more reliable. Minimally-invasive procedures have greatly improved patient outcomes with smaller incisions, less trauma to the patient and shorter hospital stays. Now we do many more outpatient surgeries than ever before. The patients love going home to recover in their own bed and with their own family.