Heather N. McHenry, PA-C, ’08, MPAS, ’09, has been selected as the speaker for the 2016 Graduate Commencement ceremony on May 8.
About Ms. McHenry
Heather McHenry says she knew immediately—on her first trip to Honduras as a Saint Francis undergraduate—that she was hooked on medical missions.
“It opened my eyes,” says McHenry of the experience. Even though she was not a licensed provider at the time and could only assist the physical therapy team in charge of the trip, she says she found the work immensely gratifying.
After earning her master’s in physician assistant science and licensure, McHenry was asked by the PA Department to join two Saint Francis University-sponsored mission trips to the Dominican Republic as a preceptor for the physician assistant, physical therapy and occupational therapy students taking the trips.
“The whole point of the trips was to bring our skills, bring our knowledge and our medicine to these small villages that really don’t have access [to healthcare],” says McHenry. “That was such a great experience,” she adds.
She says she felt the “itch” to go further with her volunteer work, so she began researching medical mission companies, and discovered International Medical Relief, a Colorado based firm. Under that group’s auspices, McHenry has traveled to Kenya, the Amazon and Brazil, and, most recently, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.
These mission teams bring medicines to remote villages and treat wounds and illnesses and infections. However, says McHenry, what’s so much more important is teaching the people preventative health measures.
“They don’t know about water-borne illness and they don’t know about the importance of washing your hands,” she says. Even though these concerns are common knowledge in the First World, it is new information to these villagers, and it’s “something that they can keep forever and then they can each their kids.”
Are these trips part of her personal “mission” to help the disadvantaged?
“I get more out of these trips than I’m able to give people,” says McHenry. “The amount of perspective it gives you on life is just immeasurable.”
McHenry’s “day” job may not be as adventurous as her mission travels, but is certainly as fulfilling. She is a physician assistant with the cardiothoracic surgery team at UPMC-Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh. On an average shift she assists on one or two surgeries, then manages the patients in the intensive care unit after surgery. It is her responsibility to develop a daily plan for the patient to move him/her along in recovery. This plan is submitted to a surgeon for approval, then communicated to the ICU nurses to enact.
One of her most challenging duties is harvesting the saphenous vein from a person’s leg for bypass surgery.
“Learning how to take a vein was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do,” says McHenry, “but it’s very rewarding.” She underwent special training to master this procedure.
Her message to the Class of 2016?
“Take advantage of every opportunity you have because you don’t know if it’s going to come around again,” advises McHenry. “If an opportunity presents itself, go for it!”
Heather McHenry practices what she preaches.