Ben Tanner, physician assistant, and blogger, opens up about the experiences that he has had in the medical field since 2014. He touches on aspects of his personal life, as well as the future of healthcare workers. He believes that it’s essential to give patients his undivided attention to really focus on the problems at hand to heal properly. 

Thank you so much for your time! I know you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what early experiences brought you to choosing a career in the medical profession?

I never really expected to work in the medical field when I was growing up, and it was quite a circuitous route that brought me here. Basically, when I was a missionary in Guatemala for a couple of years, I did a TON of walking. And I started having pain in my feet. I visited a practitioner there in Guatemala who did some fancy testing on my gait (the way I walk), and manually created custom insoles that helped me a lot.

Through that experience, I started to think a lot about “biomechanics”, and how insoles could be really helpful if they’re sufficiently customized for individual needs. That’s why I eventually decided to attend podiatric medical school (to become a foot doctor). 

However, while I was at school I became more familiar with the physician assistant profession,  and ultimately decided to switch career paths. The main thing that attracted me was the flexibility of being able to work in multiple specialties, something doctors can’t really do. 

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you in your career as a physician assistant?

I’m not sure if it’s the MOST interesting…but here’s one:

One day I had a patient in the ER, a young woman who had some signs and symptoms of possible sepsis (in other words an infection that had spread to her bloodstream).  After doing various tests and treatments in the ER, I called the hospitalist to get her admitted to the hospital, to continue her care overnight and beyond.

That particular hospitalist was always kind of cantankerous, and difficult to deal with as a PA. On that occasion he gave me a lot of “pushback”, as we say, kind of listing all the reasons why he didn’t think she really needed to be admitted to the hospital (since she was a fairly young and otherwise healthy person).

A few weeks later, I spoke with him again. As it turned out, that patient had a pretty serious case of sepsis, and required aggressive treatment and more investigation than expected.  Basically, he apologized and said something along the lines of “I’ll never give you a hard time again”.

It was highly unusual that he changed his stance like that, and hence quite memorable. 

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting out on your career? What lesson did you learn from that?

At my first ER job, we took care of a lot of patients who were coming in just to get dialysis. They were mostly immigrants, so they didn’t have anywhere else to go.  

Taking care of these patients was really time-consuming, and one time I got into this long argument with a co-worker about how carefully we needed to look at certain details when we were taking care of them. It went on and on, and we were both being kind of stubborn.

When I think back about that I have a chuckle to myself, and it seems pretty ridiculous.

The lesson I learned was about picking your battles. It really wasn’t a very important thing to argue about, and I could have just listened to her point of view and then moved on.

To #DareToCare means to survive and thrive in today’s medical world. How do you take care of yourself? What’s the routine you must do to thrive every day?

I always start my day with journaling. I actually do this verbally, but I list three things I’m grateful for, and three things that would “make today great”. Most days, I also do at least a few minutes of meditation, which has really helped me be more mindful during stressful situations at work.  I also do at least a short exercise routine just about every day.

I’ve noticed these activities tend to help my whole day go better

I write a series of letters to my God-daughter in my latest book. In that same vein, what are 5 things you would tell your younger self? 

Wow, that’s kind of a weighty topic! But here are some things that come to mind:

  1. Learn how to meditate, so you can be more mindful.
  2. Stand up straight!  (I had a tendency to slouch for many years, and my posture is still a big struggle.  It would have been great if I had worked on that more in my youth.)
  3. Appreciate the time you have with your family. Once you move away, you’ll never have nearly as much time with them again.
  4. It’s okay to eat less often.  (I think doing some type of intermittent fasting would have really helped me when I was in college, since I ate so much cheap junk food.)
  5. Relationships with friends and family are the most important things in your life. Prioritize them.

How can medical professionals reclaim heart-based healing amid pandemic, political, and other pressures?  

One interesting thing I’ve noticed recently is that as my hours in the ER have gotten cut back (our patient volumes have been lower in Las Vegas), I kind of have a fresh perspective on communicating with patients.

For example, I’ve slowed down a little bit, and tried to think from their perspective a little bit more. And that helps me explain things better and more thoroughly, using layman’s terminology.  I also give them more time to ask questions.

Building on that, I think one way medical professionals can reclaim heart-based healing is to really focus on the patient, and think of why we got into this field in the first place.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your work as a healthcare professional? Can you explain?

One podcast I listen to is called Stimulus. It’s an emergency medicine doctor named Rob Orman, and he talks a lot about maintaining your mental health as an emergency medicine provider.

For example, things like mindfulness, stoicism, staying grounded, and so forth.

He’s got a pretty good sense of humor, and a lot of experience. And seeing the overall  approach he takes has been really helpful. 

Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence in the healthcare community. If you could inspire other doctors and nurses to bring change to affect the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Said another way, what difference do you see needs to be made for our collective future?

Mainly I would advise other health care providers to slow down, and take a minute to connect with their co-workers and patients. We need a culture of human connection, as opposed to an assembly line.

It’s hard to do this in our current environment, where everything is metrics-based, and money-driven. But a shift to this type of mindset is one thing that can help save the future of healthcare.

How can people connect with you?

Outside of work, the main project I’m focused on these days is my fasting blog, where I write about the health benefits of fasting. People can send me a message through the site if they’d like. 🙂