Beth Blankenship, PA-C (Seattle Class 28), is part of a practice in Lewiston, Idaho, where she cares for cancer patients and others who need to control severe pain.
“It was never a conscious decision,” says Beth Blankenship, PA-C (Seattle Class 28). “I just always knew that medicine was where I needed to be.”
Blankenship has lived in Idaho since she was a child — except for one crucial year: her first year of school in MEDEX Northwest in Seattle. It was hard to leave her two small children and her family, she says, but the physician assistant program was attractive. Blankenship liked the breadth of educational opportunities MEDEX provided, and, she says, its teaching programs were respected in her community.
Perhaps most compelling was the structure of MEDEX’s second year of training, in which students do rotations out in the field. “Being able to return to my hometown for all of my clinical rotations but one was a huge help with my family life,” Blankenship says.
MEDEX gave Blankenship a great foundation in the basics, she says, and she also credits the program — in particular, instructor and role model Kaye C. Kvam, PA-C, MPAS — with her current career path: helping patients with chronic pain.
Blankenship, who now works for Interventional Pain Consultants in Lewiston, Idaho, sees patients willing to drive a full two hours for treatment. By the time they’ve been referred to the clinic, she says, many chronic pain sufferers are on short-acting opioids and desperate for relief and treatment options. Their pain takes many forms, says Blankenship, “from patients chasing their pain all day long and never really getting it under control, to the acute problems of compression fractures or shingles.”
Some of the methods the clinic uses are high-tech, including intrathecal pumps, which, in administering stable quantities of medication directly to the spine, eliminate the need for oral medication. Implanted spinal cord stimulators use electrical impulses to quiet the pain and allow some patients to stop using opioids completely. And the clinic’s psychologist, says Blankenship, helps patients reduce pain with counseling and behavioral management strategies. Some pain can be treated with heat and massage.
Blankenship’s toughest challenge may be separating the pain sufferers from people who abuse pain medications. Physical exams are key, as is drug testing, both of which hold patients and staff accountable for opioid use. It’s also very challenging to help patients find other ways to deal with pain when their medication stops working for them. “Sometimes I need to be a psychologist, friend, provider, instructor and teacher,” says Blankenship.
The most rewarding facet of her job, though, is palliative care: helping cancer patients face the end of their lives with respect and dignity. A family member with cancer reinforced Blankenship’s dedication. “I realized end-of-life issues are very important to me, that controlling pain can make a positive difference for these patients who have a special place in my heart,” she says.
Blankenship enjoys her job, and the small community life suits her well. “If it weren’t for MEDEX, I wouldn’t be where I am today, loving my life,” Blankenship says. “I can’t thank them enough.”