PA Charter Class member, Laura Blanchard, shares how Campbell prepared her for her dream job

On December 15, 2013, the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences (CPHS) graduated its charter class of Physician Assistant students. The 34 members began the program in 2011 and set high standards for future classes that followed. As the ten-year anniversary approaches, CPHS would like to highlight some of these alumni and the incredible work they are doing.

Name: Laura Blanchard

Program: Master of Physician Assistant Practice

Undergrad: East Carolina University

Where are you currently employed? UNC Medical Center

Title: Lead APP for inpatient malignant hematology

Tell us a little bit about how amazing your current position is and what you do. How are you making a positive impact? Every day I go to work at my dream job and help patients navigate the worst and best days of their lives. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is life changing, but for many of my patients their entire world changes in a matter of minutes. Since starting in my position as the first PA [with this department], I have been able to grow our program to 10 PAs/NPs and ensure top of license practice, including performing procedures, managing acutely ill patients, and serving as co-investigator on clinical trials.

During my time at Campbell, we were taught to be flexible and to be comfortable being uncomfortable. This foundation prepared me for the ever-changing world of medicine, and has helped me continue to push the boundaries, ensuring PAs are working at the top of their license. I would even venture to say that I am now an expert at being flexible and uncomfortable!

UNC has been my dream job since my time working at UNC Children’s Hospital as a Recreational Therapist. As a member of Campbell’s charter PA class, there were little connections for rotations at UNC; however, given my previous connections at UNC, I was able to work with the PA program Director of Clinical Education, Laura Gerstner, to develop the first UNC hem/onc rotation, which ultimately lead to my current position. Since that initial relationship, UNC has continued to take students on rotations and has even branched out into other specialties.

Why did you choose CPHS and what benefits do you believe you gained/are gaining from attending Campbell? Did you/do you connect with the “Campbell family”? I chose Campbell for the strong academic record and the family atmosphere it provided. PA school was the hardest, most rewarding two years of my life. I have found memories because of the academic atmosphere Campbell provided, which is one of high expectations and standards with a supportive and knowledgeable faculty guiding the way. I have returned to Campbell to teach and serve on various boards, which is my way of giving back to the institution that gave me the skills to obtain my dream career of caring for patients with cancer.

My advice for incoming first years would be to trust the process and faculty. They have a strong reputation for success. — Blanchard

Please summarize your personal, business, and academic journey: As the lead PA in inpatient malignant hematology, I have been able to promote the PA profession and ensure PAs are working at the top of their license, leading the way for future PAs. In 2019, I was named the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Women of the year which would not have been made possible without the support of my Campbell friends, who I was fortunate enough to have cheering me on the night I received the award. I have been able to serve as an executive board member for the leukemia and lymphoma society, helping lead the way in cancer research.

I have also been fortunate enough to return to Campbell as adjunct faculty, and have guest lectured for UNC’s PA program and the UNC residency and fellowship programs. I have given national talks through the American Society of Clinical Oncology. I was recently given the CPHS inaugural emerging leader award, which was an honor as my heart bleeds orange and black with Campbell pride! I also serve on the NCAPA government affairs committee, where I am able to advocate for the PA profession. Through UNC, I serve on several committees including the mentorship, educational, and professional advancement and department of medicine advisory committees to help advance the clinical practice for PAs/NPs.

Please summarize any additional accomplishments you would like to highlight or talk more personally about what you are passionate about! In my personal time, I spend my time with my family. I enjoy watching my husband coach my son’s little league baseball team and watching my daughter swim. I also enjoy playing in a handbell choir and playing my trumpet, as making music with people feeds my soul.

At Campbell we believe in purposeful lives and meaningful service. What legacy are you leaving/do you hope to leave? One of my best accomplishments is the privilege to accept Campbell students on rotation. Not everyone wants to care for cancer patients, but I try to give my students the power to better themselves by pushing their knowledge and comfort. I want them to experience a protected space that will prepare them for the transition from student to provider. I also hope to continue my leadership career to continue the work of advocating for PAs throughout the healthcare system.

Reasons why prospective students should choose Campbell over other Graduate and Professional Schools: Campbell felt like home to me from the start, and I still feel the same way every time I return. You are seen as an individual with personal goals and passions. Campbell does a great job of supporting you in any way you need. The PA school is well connected within local and national organizations, providing each student with the leadership skills to carry on after PA school to continue to advance the profession.

The faculty are how I survived PA school! They are compassionate and truly believe in each student. They share their knowledge and resources to make sure each student is successful. They have an open-door policy and provided me with a shoulder to cry on many times throughout my time at Campbell.

Additional items you would like to include in your story. I have so many fond memories of my time at Campbell, from dressing up as medical diagnoses for Halloween, to Dr. Stewart performing a cardiac arrhythmia dance to help us learn. I am so glad we have a class video to help us remember our amazing time at Campbell and I am so glad to see that tradition continue (with even better productions).

What I miss most about Campbell is the home town, family feel I get every time I visit. It feels like I never left and am always welcomed back with open arms.

My advice for incoming first years would be to trust the process and faculty. They have a strong reputation for success. It will be hard, but take it one day and one test at a time. When times get tough, always remember why you want to be a PA and feed that passion into your studies.

My most impactful faculty member was Laura Gerstner. She was my advisor during PA school and taught me so much about leadership and life. She was also the one that was able to secure my UNC rotation, which led to my dream job and successful career. Since leaving, she continues to serve as a mentor and friend, helping me grow every step of the way.

Betty Lynn Johnson also holds a special place in my heart. I have never met someone who genuinely loves and cares about each and every one of her students the way she does. I am tearing up just thinking about her love and support for me over the years. Her ability to pray and bring peace to me during difficult times is something I will cherish forever. I will never forget the love she poured into me and my daughter when I brought her to campus to meet everyone. Betty Lynn loved her like her own grandchild. Campbell only hires and recruits the best in order to produce the best PAs!