Michelle Higgins, PA-C

Michelle Higgins, PA ‘12 featured on ABC’s “Save My Life: Boston Trauma”

September 01, 2015

  • Saving lives is all in a typical day’s work for many Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) alumni. But it’s not every day that these incredible moments are captured on film.

    Michelle Higgins, PA-C, a 2012 graduate of the Physician Assistant Studies program at MCPHS — Boston, was recently featured on the medical documentary program “Save My Life: Boston Trauma”.

    The program gives viewers access to top-tier trauma teams inside the emergency rooms and operating rooms of the nation’s most prestigious hospitals, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Medical Center, and Massachusetts General Hospital.

    Film crews followed Michelle, a PA at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, as she saved the life of a patient who believed he was suffering from acid reflux, but was actually experiencing a heart attack.

    Michelle’s segment on the program is credited with saving another life. In August, Good Morning America showcased the story of a local viewer who realized he was experiencing the same symptoms. He went to the emergency department at Brigham and Women’s, where they identified he was also having a heart attack.

    Michelle believes that this local viewer’s story illustrates why it is so important to share the experiences of emergency professionals and patients.

    Click here to watch the episode of “Save My Life: Boston Trauma” that Michelle appeared in. Her segment begins around the 30 minute mark.

    We had the opportunity to hear from Michelle on her experience filming “Save My Life: Boston Trauma” and why she believes being a Physician Assistant is the best career in the world.

    How does the filming process for “Save My Life: Boston Trauma” work?

    The ABC camera crew filmed at Brigham and Women’s for several months. There were many hospital-wide emails and signs posted all around the hospital to raise awareness and ensure complete professionalism and confidentiality. The crew split their time between three renowned hospitals – Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston Medical Center, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

    What type of cases did filming focus on?

    They focused mainly, but not exclusively, on cases where time was of the essence, for example: traumas (motor vehicle accidents, gunshot wounds, and stabbings) and critical illnesses such as heart attacks, strokes and substance abuse.

    What surprised you about filming?

    That my segment would air on national television! I had no idea until my boyfriend’s brother sent us a video from his cellphone of me on TV. From there, my Facebook wall and inbox were flooded with messages, and even new friend requests from other PAs around the country.

    Why is it important to share the personal experiences of both medical professionals and patients through a program like this?

    It is important because it may inspire viewers to pursue a career in healthcare or to seek medical care for an apparent benign symptom, such as heartburn. Just the next morning after watching the episode, a 71 year old man experienced indigestion, and just like my patient, wound up in the BWH ED where he too was having a heart attack and was cared for by the same Interventional Cardiologist.

    What has been your favorite part about being featured on this program?

    My favorite part of being involved with “Save My Life: Boston Trauma” has been raising awareness and putting the national spotlight on the PA profession. What is most important is to recognize that this one case does not make me a hero, but to recognize what PAs do on a daily basis. We routinely provide efficient, compassionate, preventative, and often lifesaving care.

    You are a member of a top-tier trauma team at one of the nation’s most prestigious hospitals. What is this team like?

    I have been working in the Emergency Department (ED) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), Boston since graduating PA school in 2012. I am one of 35 PAs who rotate there and at two other clinical sites, Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital and Foxborough Urgent Care at Gillette Stadium. Our PA group is led by two devoted Chief PAs (Jessica Britnell and Hannah Dodd) and we are always expanding and striving to be the best of the best.

    Tell us about the accomplishments of your team.

    Some of our proudest past and present accomplishments include caring for the Boston Marathon survivors, training and performing point of care ultrasounds, taking the Advanced Airway Course, becoming Emergency Medicine CAQ certified and publishing our first book, “Emergency Medicine CAQ Review for Physician Assistants”.

    Describe a typical day as a PA.

    I work three 12-hour shifts per week, and four shifts one week per month to total 40 hours. Most days are quite busy. I am always prepared to work hard, fast, and multitask. When I arrive, I start seeing patients, with complaints and ailments ranging from bug bite to medication refill to chronic cough to victims of assault, drug overdose, serious blood stream infections, or stroke. Patient load varies by department volume, provider experience, and the emergency severity indices of your patients.

    What is the most rewarding part about being a PA?

    This is two-fold: The first would be my amazing colleagues (aka “work family”) who are kind, skilled, and supportive – and did I mention some of the most interesting and entertaining people I have ever known? The second would be taking care of patients from all walks of life (age, health, culture, socioeconomic status, etc.) and having the opportunity to build rapport, instill trust, and deliver high quality and compassionate care, coupled with education and a sense of empowerment.

    Why should someone consider becoming a PA? What type of person thrives in this role?

    Consider a career as a Physician Assistant if you love people, problem solving, and if you desire a challenging, yet rewarding and flexible career. My personal recipe for success is passion, empathy, excellent communication skills and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and lifelong learning.

    As a graduate of the Physician Assistant Studies program at MCPHS, how did the program prepare you for your career?

    If it weren’t for my final student rotation in the ED at BWH, I would probably be working in a completely different specialty. As a student, I always told myself and others, there were two areas I never envisioned myself working in, those being Surgery or Emergency Medicine because I wanted to “spend more time with my patients” and follow them longitudinally. I was concerned it would be less rewarding, than say Primary Care or Oncology. But I must let you in on a secret: I have the best career in the world. There is nothing more satisfying than making a patient and their loved ones feel comfortable and well cared for during what are often the most terrifying, stressful, and vulnerable experiences of their lifetime.

    Why did you choose the Physician Assistant Studies program at MCPHS?

    For me, the location was everything. What better place to learn and practice medicine than in the Longwood Medical & Academic Area?

    What does it mean to be an alum of MCPHS?

    I love working so close to MCPHS — literally across the street! — and being able to give back to MCPHS and the PA program by having student shadowers and precept PA students on their clinical rotations.

    What are your plans for the future? Will you appear on future episodes of “Save My Life: Boston Trauma”?

    I love my job and have never had thoughts of going anywhere else. Of course, I plan to continue to advance my career and hopefully do some international relief work in the near future. To the best of my knowledge, I am not on future episodes, but you never know.

    Want to learn more about what the alumni of our PA program are accomplishing? Check out our Alumni Spotlight featuring Robert S. CitKovic, PA-C, a 2012 graduate of our Worcester program.