Skip to content

Advanced Practice Provider Spotlight: Physician assistant shares experiences as diverse provider caring for diverse patients

Advanced practice providers (APPs) play an integral role in meeting the needs of Penn State Health’s increasingly diverse patient populations. With their advanced training and credentials, these professionals expand access to high-quality care, build trust with patients and are a valuable aspect of patients’ overall experience.

This is the second of two stories on physician assistants in our APP Spotlight series.

Yuping Xu, a physician assistant (PA) in general internal medicine at Penn State Health Cocoa Outpatient Center and Penn State Health Medical Group ─ Harrisburg, originally trained as a physician at a highly ranked academic medical center in China and practiced as an attending gynecologist at an academic university hospital. In 2000, she came to the United States for her postdoctoral training, studying diabetic retinopathy, insulin signaling, obesity and polycystic ovary syndrome at Penn State College of Medicine and The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health in Manhasset, N.Y.

After a few years of medical research, however, she missed caring for patients and helping people in need. She joined the inaugural Physician Assistant Program at Penn State College of Medicine in 2014 to earn the certification needed to practice medicine in the U.S. After graduating in 2016, Xu began practicing in family medicine and later switched to internal medicine at Penn State Health.

Overcoming cultural barriers

Xu shared that some Chinese-speaking patients, including patients originally from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, switched to the Cocoa and Harrisburg practices and asked for her to be their primary care provider after learning that she had lived in China and speaks Chinese. Some Chinese-Americans are still mistrustful or feel anxious about medical providers outside their own culture and are relieved to find someone who speaks their language and has a better understanding of their needs, she added.

“Some of these patients hadn’t seen a medical provider for many years because they weren’t able to fully understand English, and they didn’t feel providers understood their concerns,” Xu said. “Some local Chinese-speaking patients actually had been traveling to Chinatown in New York City to see doctors there, rather than coming to us for their care.”

Coping with patient bias

While she sees patients from a variety of cultural and racial backgrounds, Xu said that not all patients are receptive to being treated by health care providers of a different race.

“I once had a patient who refused to see me after he saw that I am nonwhite,” she said. “He was aggressive and used a lot of profanities regarding my ethnicity. In the past, I’ve also had to tolerate negative and offensive comments about China and Chinese people, especially during the pandemic.”

A greater diversity among the health care workforce – including nurses, front desk staff and physicians – could help some patients be more open to receiving care from those of other backgrounds, Xu said.

How to become a PA

Most PAs must earn a bachelor’s degree and complete at least three years of health care service before completing an approved PA program. The program typically requires an additional three years of education and clinical experience, after which PAs must pass a five-hour certification exam and then become licensed in their state.

Their patient care responsibilities include:

  • Conducting physical exams
  • Diagnosing and treating illnesses and acute and chronic conditions
  • Ordering and performing diagnostic tests
  • Performing medical procedures
  • Prescribing medications and developing treatment plans
  • Assisting in surgery
  • Providing guidance on disease prevention and healthy living

The advanced practice providers at Penn State Health include certified registered nurse practitioners, physician assistants, certified registered nurse anesthetists, certified nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists. Rigorously trained and credentialed, APPs work collaboratively with other health care providers to offer patients the highest level of care possible.

See the previous APP Spotlight feature on physician assistants.

If you're having trouble accessing this content, or would like it in another format, please email Penn State Health Marketing & Communications.