Bayview Cardiovascular Associates
Not many providers get to help save lives at the hospital where they were born. Joe Roenker, a Physician Assistant specializing in cardiology, has that rare privilege at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital.
Roenker has spent the past five years at Bayview Cardiovascular Associates, a large regional practice and primary provider of cardiac care at the hospital. There and in the outpatient setting, the Virginia Beach native aims to build collaborative partnerships with patients by taking the time to carefully explain each test and treatment.
“It’s important to me that they understand their disease and its particular stage,” he says. “If they feel as if I’m working with them – not just doing things to them – they’re more likely to embrace needed medicines and lifestyle and mindset changes to enjoy the best quality of life.”
Most of Roenker’s patients are older than 65 and often grappling with a variety of complex health concerns beyond cardiovascular disease, such as chronic pulmonary conditions, kidney diseases or injuries, and gastrointestinal or liver complications.
“It’s challenging work, but I love it,” he relates. “Not only do I get to focus on what I consider the most important organ in the body, but with almost every decision that I make about the heart, I have to consider how it might impact the rest of the body.”
Thankfully, treatments for many forms of heart disease have advanced significantly in recent years. For example, patients with congestive heart failure now have access to both effective new medications and devices that can reduce the risk of hospitalization.
One such device is the CardioMEMS, a dime-size implant that measures changes in pulmonary artery pressure, a frequent early warning sign of decline. A miniature wireless sensor, inserted into the artery via a catheter procedure, transmits blood pressure and heart rate data and can alert physicians to intervene.
“More and more, we have the knowledge and tools to make a difference in patients’ lives on multiple levels,” Roenker notes. “It’s so rewarding when patients tell me that they’re glad they had an appointment with me because they leave feeling stronger or more optimistic.”
Medicine has been a perfect fit for Roenker, who graduated from Princess Anne High School and attended the College of William & Mary on a baseball scholarship. As his childhood dream of pitching for the Atlanta Braves faded during an injury-filled senior season, he turned his focus to his longtime interest in science.
Kinesiology degree in hand, Roenker briefly considered a career in physical therapy but opted to take a job as a technician in Sentara Virginia Beach General’s cardiac catheterization lab, where his mother is Nurse Manager and he would spend four years.
After discovering a talent for staying calm in emergency situations, Roenker soon grew fascinated with the function and pathology of the heart. He also connected with local cardiologists, some now co-workers, who suggested the PA path.
Roenker completed a Master of Physician Assistant degree at Eastern Virginia Medical School and has been with Bayview ever since. A member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, he is based primarily at the group’s Virginia Beach office when he’s not at the hospital. Caregiving runs in his family: in addition to his mom, his sister is a fourth-floor nurse at Virginia Beach General, and his brother is a firefighter in Portsmouth.
Outside work, Roenker enjoys golfing, playing guitar and participating in church activities. With deep roots in his hometown, he is happy to have found such a fulfilling career right out of training.
“At the end of PA school, we were told, ‘Fifty percent of you will switch specialties after only a year,’” he recalls. “Most PAs do change at least once during their careers, but I really don’t see myself ever doing anything else. To me, cardiology is endlessly interesting.”
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