Becoming a physician assistant: leading by example

November 16, 2020

Mark Turczak wears his lab coat and holds his diploma next to the bobcat statue

For Mark Turczak '12, MHS ’14, PA-C, Quinnipiac is a family affair. Both Turczak and his brother, Andrew, graduated from Quinnipiac’s Physician Assistant program and are now practicing PAs in Connecticut.

Turczak’s brother shared stories about his life on campus, in the classroom and the work he did during his clinicals. Those inspiring stories caught Turczak’s attention and led him to Quinnipiac and a seat in the Entry-Level Dual-Degree BS/Master’s in Physician Assistant program.

Turczak worked hard to keep his spot in the Physician Assistant program by studying and becoming an active member of Quinnipiac student life. Throughout his undergraduate studies, he served as president for the PA Club, was an RA and part of the Greek life on campus.

Two days after he graduated with his BS in Health Science Studies, he began a challenging yet rewarding two years. Turczak traveled all over Connecticut for his clinical rotations gaining experiences in different types of health care settings. In fact, one of his rotations offered him a job after he graduated.

He is a physician assistant at St. Vincent’s Medical Center specializing in Emergency Medicine along with five other Quinnipiac graduates. The training they received, Turczak says, has been an integral part of managing the demands of the pandemic.

Turczak is confident that they are prepared to adapt to any situation that comes their way. “The way you were trained definitely helps you through the difficult challenges, especially of this past year.”

"We are often seeing people on the worst day of their lives, and they are looking for you to help make it a little better. That is something I never take lightly," said Turczak.

Leadership plays an important part of Turczak’s training as well. After he graduated, he joined the Connecticut Academy of Physician Assistants. He took on roles such as vice president and now for the past two years, president.

He works on legislation to improve the physician assistant practice in the state of Connecticut. He feels strongly about giving back to the profession by being a leading advocate. Turczak’s role as an integral part of the Quinnipiac community has taught him the “importance of doing something that is bigger than yourself.”

An important part of the PA program is community service. Turczak handed out supplies to the homeless, cared for the underserved through free clinics, and participated in other impactful situations that humbled and grounded him.

He says that, "While you are trained in the sciences, when the human element comes into play, you realize your role as a Physician Assistant changes lives" – including his own.

Turczak’s family continues to be a big influence on him. His wife is supportive of his career and is proud of the important work he does. Turczak credits his parents for showing him that hard work and dedication are non-negotiable.

They instilled in Turczak and his brothers that education leads to a better a life. Echoing his parents’ words, Turczak recalls the sound advice they gave him: “You must work for your future. Sometimes it will be difficult, but it will be worth it.”

Q & A

How did the Quinnipiac community contribute to your growth as a student?

Quinnipiac always fostered a great sense of community. From walking the beautiful campuses, to attending hockey games and holiday dinners with faculty, to volunteering in the New Haven area, it gave me a sense I was part of something bigger.

It also provided a great support system, whether it was my friends and classmates or the dedicated faculty, I always felt there were people there to support me, in my corner, wanting to see me succeed.

Looking back, what experience(s) had a major impact on your success as a graduate student going through the PA program?

I think the support of the faculty had a major impact on my success. From the first day of PA school they explained the expectations and the challenges we would face. We understood the importance of staying organized and disciplined during the 27-month program.

It was important to know what resources you had and how to adapt as needed, these were crucial for success.

Is there a professor that stands out to you?

All of the faculty in the PA program played a huge role. They were all there to support you no matter what. Each brought their own unique experiences and perspectives to help you as a student. Sometimes you needed someone to just listen to you and vent during a stressful week.

Others would give you guidance and share their life experience. Some had the best clinical stories and experiences that I still remember to this day. There was such a great variety in the faculty to find the support you needed.

What life lessons do you bring with you from your life into the ER?

I think compassion and the importance of treating others with respect and dignity are what I use every day in my practice in the ER. We are often seeing people on the worst day of their lives, and they are looking for you to help make it a little better.

That is something I never take lightly. I’ve also learned it’s not one-size-fits-all, each patient and situation is unique. You have to put yourself in their shoes. The way you ask questions or explain a treatment plan, every patient is unique, and you often have to adapt your approach.

How has this pandemic changed the way you practice/look at the healthcare field?

I look at the pandemic as just another large challenge for the healthcare field. We were always taught at Quinnipiac to fall back on your training no matter how challenged you may sometimes feel.

As the pandemic was starting to arrive here in the U.S. there was a lot of uncertainty and some anxiety about what was going to take place, but I was reassured we’ve been trained to handle difficulty cases and diseases.

When you stay calm and confident, it goes a long way for your team of healthcare providers, patients, and their families. The pandemic is not the first large challenge we’ve faced and unfortunately it won’t be the last.

We as healthcare providers understand we are there to serve the needs of our community and our nation, sometimes under more stress than normal. The pandemic is definitely a game changer in the way we approach being prepared as a healthcare system.

At St. Vincent’s we were ready and willing to adapt at a moment’s notice. In just a matter of a few days we had new triage systems in place, more extensive PPE use, updates for clinical treatments, and new policies in place to protect both staff and our patients.

Would like to add something about your role as advocate for the Connecticut Academy of Physician Assistants?

I’ve had the privilege to serve as President of the Connecticut Academy of Physician Assistants for the past two years. It is an honor to represent the 3,000+ practicing PAs in the state of Connecticut.

Something we were taught at Quinnipiac is the importance to giving back to your community and your profession. Quinnipiac instilled the importance of leadership and advocacy.

We often say PA really stands for “Patient Advocate” and I take that to heart in representing our profession as well. The PA profession continues to grow and adapt in the 21st century and we need to have a voice. If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu.

Quinnipiac’s nationally recognized physician assistant program is focused on building strong members of a health care team who have the cultural awareness necessary to effectively treat a diverse population. Learn more how you can be an indispensable member of this growing profession.

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