Q & A with Kat Pearsall, Wake PA Class of '10

Where are you now? What are your roles/responsibilities at your current workplace? 

I work in Pediatric Oncology at Wake Forest and have been in this position since 2013. I work primarily outpatient in our clinic but I get to cover inpatient several weeks a year. I get the opportunity to care for oncology patients and their families to help them navigate the difficult journey through a cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. I am able to do procedures including bone marrow aspirates and biopsies as well as lumbar punctures with intrathecal chemotherapy. 

A man, a woman and three young children stand outdoors with arms around each other and smile at the cameraWe have several Wake PA students that rotate through our clinic every year so I get the opportunity to help precept students in our clinic and teach procedures which is always rewarding. One amazing thing about the team and section that I work with is their support of educational opportunities for APPs. They have given me the time, support and bandwidth to allow me to expand my education in many different areas of interest.

One particular area of interest is pediatric palliative care. I was able to participate in the University of Washington's Graduate Certificate Program in Pediatric Palliative Care in 2019-2020. Since then, I have been working with a pediatrician, Leila DeWitt, DO, to develop a Pediatric Onco-Palliative Program here at Wake Forest to provide an extra layer of support to oncology patient and families to help address symptom management, optimize quality of life during and after chemotherapy, and end-of-life care if ultimately needed.

I have served on the Wake PA Alumni Committee which has been a great opportunity to stay involved in the Wake PA program and grow the reach and involvement of our alumni base. Through those connections, I have become more interested in APP leadership opportunities. I have enrolled in a certificate program through University of Pennsylvania in an APP leadership course and look forward to hopefully finding my leadership niche! 

What brought you to your current place of employment?  

Working in pediatric oncology as a PA has been my goal since I decided to go into the medical field. I worked in adult oncology since graduation from Wake PA in 2010 and all the while was hoping for an opportunity to help pediatric cancer patients. This role became open in 2013, and I was lucky to have been given the chance to work in my dream role.  

What does a normal day look like for you? What has an abnormal day looked like for you?  

A normal day is 8am - 5pm in clinic and inpatient, seeing off therapy patients, seeing on therapy follow up patients, giving outpatient chemo, admitting for inpatient chemo, running to the OR or sedation suite for sedated LPs and bone marrows.  

What do you remember most about being a Wake Forest PA student? What were some moments of inspiration as well as moments of opportunity for you?  

I LOVED being a part of Wake PA. I made lifelong friends and realized my dream of  becoming an APP. I remember the PBL (now IBL I think?) groups most, learning from veteran PAs and learning from my fellow students. Being at Wake PA made me fall in love with Winston-Salem as well (and this was back when Wake PA was in Victoria Hall!). I made amazing connections here and did not want to leave such a vibrant city and specifically the rich academic environment.  

How has your education at Wake PA influenced how you interact with patients, make decisions, etc.? Could you give some examples?  

PBL/IBL helped me learn in the medical model, how to think critically and how to find those answers I needed but did not have. I loved the in-depth education on developing common ground with patients and the art of interviewing patients and their families. Asking the right questions, often with open ended, has often provided me the insight into what is going on with patients to be able to adequately address their needs, elicit their goals, and answer questions that are important to them.  

What words of wisdom do you have for our students?  

Seek out a team/company/supervising MD that will continue to foster your education long after your graduation. There is such a wide range of things you can do with your Wake PA education (the best foundation you could have!) and never stop learning or growing throughout your career.  

Is there anything about the medical system or standard protocol that you would change?  

I would love to change how health insurance works, but that is beyond the scope of this profile! Really, I would love to specifically change the funding for Pediatric Cancer Research. Less than 4% of our federal budget for cancer research goes to pediatric cancer research. Not only do we have an opportunity to save more lives but we have an opportunity to improve the quality of life of our survivors. Specifically, more than 95% of childhood cancer survivors experience significant health-related issues by the age of 45 because of sequelae from their pediatric cancer treatments (chemo side effects (hearing, fertility, cardiac toxicity, etc), radiation side effects, bone marrow transplant side effects, the list goes on). We need to do better. 

What has sustained your passion for being a medical professional?  

I work with a wonderful team who helps provide resiliency tools (happy hours, yoga, peloton teams!). It is a huge honor to work with the children and families I work with, to work with and learn from the dedicated team we have, and do work that feels meaningful, valuable, and important. The Pediatric Cancer journey is terribly difficult for families to navigate, and my goal is to walk with them and help them get through it in any way that I can.  

What are some activities you enjoy outside of work? What are some items on your bucket list?  

I enjoy spending time with my family and past that, there is not much other time! I exercise to recharge (Peloton, Yoga, walk/jog on the treadmill and watch trashy TV on Bravo). I have a problem with adopting too many dogs - my poor husband is currently dealing with three kids and three dogs (St Bernard puppy, two other lab mixes). He is lucky that our HOA won't allow me to adopt farm animals...