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Meet A Physician Assistant: Courtney Nelson

As a young girl, Courtney Nelson assumed she would either be a soccer player or a teacher. But her life took an unexpected turn in college. In high school, she was fascinated with biology and realized she had a strong stomach and was not grossed out while dissecting frogs. However, in undergrad, while interning at a clinic that helped diabetic patients, she realized she really enjoyed caring for patients and found her sensitive nature to be her strength. She is now a Physician Assistant (PA) at Stanford School of Medicine and teaches the next generation of PA students. Her journey shows how...

Discovering My Passion For Medicine

I grew up in Snohomish, Washington, a small town to the north-east of Seattle. As a young girl, I loved playing soccer. My mom put me in soccer at age 4 because she said I would not walk, but only run! As I got older, I started playing competitive soccer and that became my focus. Also, growing up, I was a very sensitive person. My parents interpreted my sensitivity as something that would not be well suited to medicine. So, from an early age, they and I thought that I might go into education. As I got into high school, I found myself fascinated by anatomy and physiology and how the human body...

What Does A Physician Assistant Do?

Chances are when you go to your primary care clinic or to the hospital for a surgery, you might meet the Physician Assistant first. Physician Assistants are generalists and are trained to work in all areas of medicine -- from emergency medicine to surgery, pediatrics, primary care, women’s health, mental health, and inpatient medicine. PA, RN, NP: What Do They Mean? How are Physician Assistants different from Registered Nurses (RN) and Nurse Practitioners (NP)? While nurses can care for, provide medicines and educate patients, they cannot diagnose a patient or prescribe medications. Aside...

My Work: Caring For Patients, Teaching

I work as a Physician Assistant two days a week at the Cardiovascular ICU and teach at Stanford three days a week. In the Cardiovascular ICU, I see cardiac surgical patients, and heart and lung transplant patients. All my patients are basically there for two reasons – either they are unstable and need surgery, or they need to be stabilized after a major surgery. As you know, in an ICU setting, patients need the highest level of care. Some patients may even require the assistance of life-sustaining machines such as ECMO (heart-lung machines). What Does My Day Look Like? I work both night and...

Courtney Nelson

Courtney Nelson is a Physician Assistant in the Cardiovascular ICU at Stanford and a faculty in the Stanford School of Medicine as well as the Physician Assistant Studies Program. 

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