Huntington graduates have been serving as medical professionals for more than a century. And they’ve displayed their skills and compassion in settings that range from high-tech operating rooms to makeshift jungle clinics. Wes Akers, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2000, has found his calling as a physician assistant, a position that encompasses many of the duties traditionally performed by a doctor.
Licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician, PAs conduct exams, diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries, order and interpret tests, assist in surgery, provide education and conduct research. Where a physician isn’t always on duty — such as in a rural or innercity clinic — a PA may be the principal caregiver.
Wes went to work with Dr. Jeffrey Harris, a surgeon specializing in hip and knee replacements for Orthopaedics Northeast after his schooling. With a dozen locations in northeast Indiana, Orthopaedics Northeast, or ONE, employs a staff that includes 22 physicians, 16 physician assistants, and a host of nurses.
A career in medicine was a goal Wes set for himself when he was still a high-schooler in New Castle, Ind. Wes had the opportunity to observe the PAs working for an orthopedic surgeon who donated his time and expertise to the baseball team. Wes was a standout player on the varsity team.
“I was drawn to the considerable interaction that PAs have with patients,” Wes said. “And with so many patients to serve, today’s physicians simply don’t have enough time to do everything. A PA frees up time for a doctor to spend with other patients and to perform other duties pertinent to the practice.”
Wes brought both his medical aspirations and baseball talents to Huntington. As he neared graduation, Wes was still mulling over his options — perhaps medical school — when he was accepted into the 24-month PA program at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. A very limited number of students are handpicked to enter the program each year.
“God opened a door for me to go to school to become a PA, and I felt He was leading me in that direction,” Wes said. “Huntington had given me a very good foundation, and I was well-prepared for PA school. I think I had it easier than some of my classmates because of that solid foundation. At Huntington, the faculty instills a great work ethic and pushes students to realize their full potential.”
As part of his PA studies, Wes participated in a month of clinical rotations with ONE. The doctors thought Wes had the right stuff and invited him to apply as soon as he graduated.
After completing the PA program in 2003, Wes was doubly blessed when he landed a position with ONE, and married Abby (Myers), a 2002 Huntington graduate who taught kindergarten at Meadowbrook Elementary in New Haven, Ind.
Wes’ many duties with ONE include assisting in surgery, evaluating medical conditions, treating patients in the office and emergency room, making hospital rounds, and providing patient education. Another big responsibility is in the offing: it’s anticipated that Indiana will soon allow PAs to write prescriptions. “I like every aspect of my job,” Wes said. “I especially enjoy the opportunity to spend time with patients, making them more comfortable and educating them on what will happen during surgery and what to expect after the operation.
“The most gratifying part of my job is seeing patients when they return after surgery or rehabilitation, and seeing how my work has changed their lives for the better,” Wes adds. “That’s a great feeling.”
One part of the job that really calls upon Wes’ Christian love for his neighbor is the wee-hour rush to the emergency room. “We’re often called in to treat patients suffering from broken bones and trauma after car accidents and other incidents. In the emergency room, you deal with all kinds of patients, and sometimes it takes a great deal of patience and compassion.”
And, Wes says, the need for Christian principles in medicine is greater than ever.
“There’s a growing need for Christian philosophy, especially when you’re addressing ethical issues,” he said. “A Christian worldview is essential when confronted with issues such as abortion, genetic engineering and cloning.”
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