Congratulations, it is an Honor to Feature
MELISSA A. ERSKINE, PA-C
Pulmonary and Critical Care, Bayview Physicians Group;
Director of Advanced Practitioners in ICU and Hospital Medicine, and Hospitalist PA, Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital
As Melissa Erskine guides families through difficult conversations about critically ill loved ones, she never forgets her own past experience in the same situation.
Erskine, a Physician Assistant in Sentara Virginia Beach General’s ICU, lost her grandmother to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis during her college years. She made the final call to stop supportive care when nothing more medically could be done.
“I felt so much guilt at that time, but now I see it was such a gift to end her suffering,” she recalls. “We do all we can to save our patients, but if it’s not possible, I try to take some of the burden off their families. I’m very supportive and caring, but I’m also very direct and honest.”
In 2017, Erskine became the first Advanced Practice Provider (APP) to join the 24-bed ICU team full-time; today, there are four. As a pioneer and now the program’s director, she has developed successful partnerships with physicians who oversee the unit and Hospitalists who take over for patients released from intensive care.
The APPs round with multi-disciplinary specialists daily, consult with physicians as needed, provide regular updates on patient conditions, and perform crucial procedures such as endotracheal intubation, central and arterial line insertion, paracentesis and lumbar puncture.
“It takes a high level of trust for this system to work,” Erskine notes. “We’ve built that trust over time, which has resulted in an outstanding program. Our APPs work so hard. I’m very proud when ICU physicians say, ‘We couldn’t do this without you.’”
In a high-stress environment that has only intensified with the COVID-19 pandemic, Erskine has thrived: “To me, the best way to live your life is to do as much good as you can. What else could I do that’s more impactful and gratifying than this? This job is about life or death every day.”
A Michigan native, Erskine majored in Biomedical Engineering at Michigan State University but found more career opportunities in the technology and corporate realm after graduation. She worked at Dell Computers, Circuit City and Amerigroup before giving up a management position to begin the rigorous PA program at Eastern Virginia Medical School.
“It was a scary transition – I was in my mid-30s with two young kids – but I’m so glad I did it,” she relates. “I feel it is so important to make a difference, to be continually challenged and to be passionate about how you spend your time.”
Erskine, a member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants and Virginia Academy of Physician Assistants, joined Bayview Physicians Group after her 2015 graduation from EVMS. She spent two years as a Hospitalist at several local hospitals before assuming her current role.
As an APP on complex medical cases, Erskine aims to partner with patients’ families to gather as much information as possible on each person, including end-of-life wishes and what they might consider a meaningful recovery or quality of life.
“Families want absolutes that I often can’t give,” she says. “That can be stressful, but I’m honored to be there for them.” She also sets staff schedules, hires and trains APPs, serves on hospital leadership committees, and suggests or implements improvements to unit processes.
To unwind, Erskine enjoys spending time with her family, running, mountain biking, playing tennis, taking her two Standard Poodles to area parks, and traveling. And while COVID-19 has tested her team’s resolve, she remains passionate about her job.
“It gives my life so much meaning,” she says. “It feels like a calling.”
We are grateful for local Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants who serve our healthcare community!
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