Posted in The Frederick News-Post • May 8, 2013
By Brian Englar News-Post Staff
After putting off the pursuit of his dream job for years, physician assistant Doug Brown has now been sidelined by a lack of funding.
The Mount Airy resident gained little personal fulfillment from his first career in the computer software industry. He had some medical background from volunteering with fire departments and had tossed around the idea of becoming a physician assistant — he even looked into some programs.
"I worked with some of those guys in the service, and they're sharp guys, and practical and easy to get along with," Brown said. "I thought I'd want to be one of those guys."
The challenges associated with going back to school and changing careers in midstream kept the idea on hold for six years. But after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Brown said he was moved by the heroism and selflessness he saw and was ready to make the leap.
"I felt to myself 'I'm wasting my life,'" he said. "I thought I had to make a positive difference in people's lives on a daily basis. That was my purpose."
He earned his undergraduate degree at Hood College and completed the physician assistant program at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., where he lived away from his wife while working as a paramedic and taking classes.
Brown has been fulfilling his purpose and living his dream as a physician assistant at the Loudoun Free Clinic in Leesburg, Va., providing medical care to the uninsured.
"If we were not able to get care for them, they would not get any care at all," he said.
Brown said he enjoys building relationships with his patients, offering them something more than the assembly-line approach he believes is common in the medical field.
"That is not what I like to do with medicine at all," he said. "You learn about your patients and take the time to sit down and talk with them, because a lot of times you'll find out things that you never would have found out that are really affecting their health."
Building those relationships can be especially challenging when a language barrier is involved. About 70 percent of his patients are Hispanic, Brown said, so he has to lean heavily on Spanish-speaking staff members and volunteer interpreters. But it is worth the extra effort, he says — he really gets to know the people he's caring for.
"Once you do that, the patients love you, and I love them," he said.
Some of his most memorable patients have been those with terminal illnesses, Brown said. After working with them and taking thanatology courses at Hood, he has discovered a passion for helping people living out their last days and has volunteered at several hospices.
"I will do anything to see that a dying patient's wishes are fulfilled," he said. "I would work in a hospice in two seconds, but Medicare does not pay P.A.s to work in hospices."
Issues at the clinic have forced Brown to take a leave of absence until September, when he expects his position to be funded again. He says it is not easy to be away from his patients.
"I'm really disappointed about this," he said. "I feel like I am blessed to be able to give those patients, or anybody, the basic level of health care I think every person deserves."