Rose Backs

Portrait of Rose Backs

Physician Assistant
Sports Medicine

Describe your career path that has led to your current post.

My career here at Ohio State has been a lengthy one. My first job was as a student athletic trainer. It was there that I gained the experience and connections that set me on my path. After graduation, I worked at OSU Sports Medicine for several years as an athletic trainer working in physical therapy and also acting as a physician extender in clinics. The opportunities for women athletic trainers, at the time, in the higher profile sports (positions in pro baseball, football, etc.) were extremely limited or non-existent. I was restless and knew I wanted to further my education. I did not discover the physician assistant profession until a few years into my job. After researching the profession, I felt it was a good fit with my experience as an athletic trainer. I obtained my PA certification, license and completed a master’s degree to be able to practice in my current career.       

How would you describe your leadership style?

I lead by example and learn from example. I believe that to lead you have to be able to, “be in the trenches.” You garner respect from those around you by pitching in and doing whatever is needed to accomplish the goals of the organization. As a PA, you work with many disciplines in medicine as part of the treatment care team. Everyone has their roles and duties as outlined by education and licensure. Knowing and working within your educational and legal limitations is the way to model your proper role within the profession.

What were the best career investments you've made along the way?

My best career investment was going back to school to become a physician assistant. Being an athletic trainer certainly had its rewards, but the choice to expand my horizons and move further as a PA has challenged and informed my professional growth in very satisfying ways. You don’t know what you are capable of until you try. Some people come from a position of fear, “Oh, I couldn’t do that.” Or they settle into a comfort zone that says, “This is good enough.” I’ve always thought I had more to give. And I still think that. The investment in my PA education helped me believe in myself and gave me great confidence.  

Any mentors or champions who supported your professional development?

There are a number of mentors/ champions who have supported my professional development. Linda Daniel, Phyllis Bailey, Chris Kaeding, Donna Hull, Robert Magnussen, Monica Baugh, Bill Grote to name a few of my Ohio State mentors. Each person has had a hand in my success whether it was encouraging me to pursue my goals or pointing out how important my work was and how it was trailblazing for others to follow.  

In addition, I come from a large family and was surrounded by strong women growing up: my mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, sisters and sisters-in-law. Their experiences and life journeys demonstrate that every woman has a Glass Breaker inside them.

Most of all my husband, John Dye, and my two boys, Thomas and Marcus, have been my biggest champions. I would not be who I am without them.   

How would you describe your career goals today? How have they changed over time?

Medicine is ever changing, therefore my career goals at times can be a moving target. I think aside from the clinical goals, it is important to continue educating future and new PAs, building the next generation of health care providers. As a clinician you are constantly doing continuing education and keeping up with changes in licensure. The profession itself is growing and that helps me continue to grow. The profession has changed over time in that physician assistants are given more and more responsibility, and they are being consulted more and more as other clinicians learn all of our capabilities. We have a broad range of skills, and as other professionals realize all that we have to offer, there are more and more opportunities that open up for PAs. We do ourselves a disservice when we limit ourselves to one particular skill-set.

What kinds of challenges have you faced along the way, and how did you overcome them?

I was the first PA in sports medicine and the first female PA in the orthopedics department. There was a definite learning curve – for me and for my colleagues. People at first didn’t know quite what to do with me or what I could do. I had to demonstrate what PAs are capable of and how we can provide top notch patient care. It was new territory for everybody involved in the clinical and surgical settings. I had to be an advocate for pay equity and expanding privileges — including prescriptive privileges and educating people on numerous levels.  

When you think about serving in a leadership role as a female, do any unique experiences come to mind?

When I was first hired, it was definitely a unique experience being the only female PA around. In a way it was a very lonely feeling. But by embracing this role as the sole female I feel I have paved the way for others to follow. I proved our value and to show for it, there are now nine PAs in our department, the majority of them female, not to mention all the young women who have been inspired to go to PA school. Important? I think earning respect in a male-dominated field can be difficult, but succeeding results in opening doors of opportunity for others. That wasn’t necessarily my intent; it was just a byproduct of being a competent professional.

Every day with patients seems to brings its own set of unique experiences. My position influences patients, doctors, peers and others. Having the trust of my doctors and making decisions independently is very rewarding. I learn every day from my colleagues as well as the patients I treat.

What advice would you give to other women looking to reach similar goals?

Often when speaking with aspiring PAs we discuss how a career like this impacts all aspects of life. I could have been complacent and not taken the risk to go back to school. (My oldest son was nine months old at the time.) My advice would be to not be afraid and to not see limitations, only opportunities. I think if you really want to be successful you would do well not to see things through the prism of male/female professionals, rather through the prism simply of medical professionals, without gender attached to it. I think we’ve turned a corner, and I think the best advice I can give is to simply go pursue your professional goals in terms of what you want and what your skills and competencies are regardless of your gender.

I think what helped me most was how I saw myself. I saw myself first and foremost as a competent PA, a professional who deserved to be taken seriously just like any male would’ve approached his profession. Now, it would be a different story if somebody underestimated me because I was a woman, but that didn’t happen because I saw myself as a good PA first, a professional of equal status. I assumed equality and acted that way. So my basic advice is to be the best professional you can be. Be proud of the choices you have as a woman and take advantage of those opportunities.

What's next for you? Something you're looking forward to.

I think what I look forward to most right now is coming to work really feeling validated, really feeling like this profession is what I’ve thought all along – a profession worthy of the award I’ve been fortunate enough to receive. I’m really grateful for this award. It validates everything I’ve been through to get where I am as a physician assistant, and I would hope it causes people to see all of us, me and my fellow PAs, in a newly respected light.