From a young age, Han na Park, MPAS, PA-C, witnessed firsthand what happens when people have negative experiences with health care: They stop using it.
Park saw that outcome play out in her own family after her uncle received substandard care following a biking injury. As a result, Park’s maternal grandmother began to distrust the health care system and avoided going to the doctor when she was sick or injured — instead preferring to treat herself with home remedies.
That early experience has shaped the way Park approaches her work leading a team of three physician assistants (PAs) who support the Cerebrovascular Service in the Brigham’s Comprehensive Stroke Center, which cares for patients who have experienced an ischemic stroke, burst aneurysm or other devastating conditions affecting blood vessels in the brain and spine.
Park says she knows how important it is to take the time to listen to patients and families, especially during what is usually an uncertain and emotional time.
“The family goes through so much when there’s a life-altering diagnosis. There’s a lot they need from us beyond medications, surgeries and clinical protocols,” said Park, clinical lead for the Surgical Section of the Comprehensive Stroke Center. “I don’t ever take anyone’s suffering lightly. While I may not be able to alleviate their suffering, I can be with them.”
Amid what can be one of life’s scariest moments, colleagues say Park is an oasis of calm and compassion.
“Although I am doing the surgical part, most of my patients rely on her for comfort, support and knowledge. I often find that she connects with our patients after hours and on weekends when they need her,” said Ali Aziz-Sultan, MD, chief of the Division of Vascular/Endovascular Surgery. “She often does these things without anybody knowing.”
Her dedication to helping others is “unparalleled,” he added. “She’s somebody that embodies service,” Sultan said. “She is one of the most inspirational people I’ve met in my life.”
Beyond her work at the Brigham, Park dedicates her free time to helping others. From being a per diem PA with Boston Health Care for the Homeless to volunteering with local youth groups to completing a recent mission trip to Peru, she says it all ties into what originally drew her to health care.
“I think my choices and motivations go back to my reasons wanting to be in medicine: to use it as a tool to fill a need of medicine across different populations,” she said. “It’s so humbling to have a patient’s trust and learn of their life stories and suffering in the moments of need.”
Sarah Christie, PA-C, chief PA for Neurosurgery, agreed that Park has an innate drive to care for others.
“Han na is just one of those people who is quiet in what she does, but she has such a depth of caring,” she said. “She goes out of her way to make sure all the details are attended to, all the right appointments are booked, all the right people on the team are communicating, and all patients have their questions answered. It is her core nature to be concerned and proactive.”
Park emphasized that she is just one member of a multidisciplinary team who all share a commitment to kindness, respect and humanity — toward patients, families and one another.
“Our team all has the same heart. Everybody is always looking for that ‘step two’ or ‘step three’ to go above and beyond. Sometimes it’s just a kind word or making sure a family’s doing OK,” she said. “It’s not an easy job, but it’s lighter when we all share the load.”
‘The Heart and the Backbone’
Surgery is a world where dramatic outcomes often take center stage. But the day-to-day logistics that occur behind the scenes are equally deserving of praise and recognition, Sultan said, and Park has a rare combination of skills in that regard.
“Han na is the heart and backbone of this team, as well as the glue that holds us together,” he said. “She coordinates and engineers the logistics of all that goes on between the surgeons, patients, Operating Room, research protocols and more.”
As part of the hospital’s journey to achieve Comprehensive Stroke Center certification in 2017, Park was part of the team charged with developing processes to improve stroke care at the Brigham. She continues to play a key role in identifying ways to elevate quality, safety and access within the Cerebrovascular Service.
She is currently part of an interprofessional team working to enable patients who arrive at the hospital with a suspected stroke to be brought directly to the Interventional Neurosurgery Suite, bypassing the Emergency Department — a move that would accelerate access to lifesaving care while also alleviating demand for ED resources.
Although such an endeavor may sound simple, making it possible is a complex process. From getting the right electronic medical record workflows in place to acquiring a printer that can generate patient ID wristbands, there are countless details involved in transforming an idea into a new protocol — all of which require collaboration, Park explained.
“It entails working with a lot of different teams and looking at each different touchpoint to see where there are inefficiencies we can address,” Park said. “It’s not a one-person job.”
Physician Assistant Week is held annually Oct. 6–12 to honor physician assistants’ substantial role in improving health. In celebration of Brigham PAs and their involvement in nearly every facet of the care across the institution, Brigham Bulletin has highlighted one of the many exceptional physician assistants to cap off PA Week this year.