U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy meets with Sheri Talbott.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy meets with Sheri Talbott.

Physician Assistant Week is held Oct. 6–12 each year to honor physician assistants’ substantial role in improving health. PAs are involved in nearly every facet of the care at BWH.

Sheri Talbott, MS, PA-C, chief physician assistant for Renal and Pulmonary Transplant Medicine, says that learning medicine is akin to being handed a glass and asked to drink an entire lake.

“You’re never done drinking,” said the Army National Guard captain, who first joined BWH as an Emergency Department EMT in 1995 when she was a pre-med biology student at Tufts University. “There’s always more to learn, and I am really passionate about it and do it willingly.”

This passion for learning is clear in the variety of roles Talbott has taken on in service to patients at BWH and beyond, including her work at the state level to combat opioid addiction.

“Sheri embodies the very essence of what a PA represents in the health care community,” said Jessica Logsdon, MHS, MHA, PA-C, director of PA Services. “She has been a tremendous influence to the profession at the local, state and national levels.”

In February, Talbott was asked to join Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s task force on the opioid epidemic. As then-president of the Massachusetts Association of PAs, Talbott was charged with bringing together all PA program directors in the state to establish a set of core competencies for educating future PAs about recognizing, treating and preventing opioid addiction. Talbott says that the program directors and deans embraced this work from the beginning.

“How do you go after something so large?” she asked. “You start in lots of places, one of which is to teach clinicians who are going to be prescribing opiates how to do it thoughtfully and responsibly and how to talk to patients about it.”

The governor and other state leaders, including Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders and Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, met again this August with Talbott and others to announce the finalized education program. The new curriculum will reach Massachusetts’ 900 enrolled PA students and 2,000 nurse practitioner students, according to State House News Service.

“I hope this work reduces the stigma associated with opioid addiction and brings it out of the shadows so it becomes something we’re able to look at in the light,” said Talbott. “Once we start having open conversations with patients about opioids, we can treat them more effectively. The more aware we are and the more we’re talking about it, the more successful we can be.”