AHEC - North Carolina Area Health Education Centers Program
Touched by an AHEC: Stories from 100 Counties
David Wangerin

David Wangerin, PA

Haywood County | Mountain AHEC

David Wangerin, physician assistant, Waynesville Family Practice Center

“Absolutely knowing that I am making a positive impact on people’s lives,” is one of the reasons David Wangerin likes being a physician assistant (PA) at Waynesville Family Practice Center in the mountains of Western North Carolina. “I enjoy the daily clinical challenges and love working with family physicians. If I had to pick one specific clinical challenge that I get the most satisfaction from, it would be working with people who have struggled with mental health problems for most of their life and figuring out a combination of medications that for the first time in their life makes them feel ‘normal.’”

David was grateful to those who mentored and guided him along his path to becoming a PA, and felt compelled to precept students as a way of sharing his knowledge. “I have been precepting students for MAHEC and Duke’s PA Program for 6 years and really enjoy the excitement of learning that each student brings,” he said. “The new energy and interest helps to stimulate me and having students adds even more meaningful experiences to the art and science of medicine. Sure it takes a lot of time, effort, and assessment being a preceptor, but it is worth it! Plus the practice as a whole and the patients love having students. Everyone feels like they are helping in the development and training of future PAs and thus all feel better about themselves for being part of that process.”

A typical day for Wangerin starts by seeing patients for one hour at a local short-term inpatient program for substance abuse treatment and depression, where he manages the non-psychiatric problems. Next, he goes to the family practice center and sees scheduled patients with all sorts of problems (such as diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, bipolar disorder, acute care symptoms) and for complete physical exams. “Some days also include managing a clinic of patients on blood-thinning medication called warfarin. Each day also includes seeing patients who have acute illnesses,” he said. For Wangerin, spending good quality time with patients is most important.

After earning a BA in business and finance and an MS in education, Wangerin’s education included many hours of experience working in health care and taking courses prior to entering PA school and then two years of training at Duke University’s PA Program. “The two years following PA school I worked at a Veteran’s Administration (VA) Medical Center which was, and is, a great place to work and get further on-the-job training,” he explained. “For me it was almost like an MD’s residential training. Finally, we all are required to do 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years. But really, we are always reading, researching, collaborating with physicians and learning.”

His previous life experiences in wilderness medicine and adolescent mental health pointed Wangerin to a career in health care where he could have a direct impact on people’s lives. “I knew the PA profession would require fast-paced, intensive study, then further challenges with on-the-job learning from physicians, but it would finally lead to fairly independent medical work – all in a relatively short period of time, especially in comparison to an MD’s training. Also, family practice in a semi-rural setting seemed a perfect fit to make a difference in a community,” he explained, “and that is exactly where I am.”