Working with cancer patients is a gift. An honor. A challenge, of course, but one that brings Andrea Edwards great joy.
“There are hard days, but a lot of really good days, too,” says Edwards, a Physician Assistant (PA) and Advanced Practice Provider (APP) Supervisor at Virginia Oncology Associates. “My patients know that I’m beside them for every step of their journey. I’ve learned so much from them and am continuously humbled by their strength, perseverance and resiliency.”
Edwards is driven not only to help patients live their best, fullest lives but to pave the way for APP education, growth and development.
An APP Supervisor for four years, she manages more than 30 PAs and Nurse Practitioners (NPs) while still seeing patients with various malignant and benign diagnoses twice a week, often while precepting PA students. She has a particular interest in breast cancer, which frequently involves long-term follow up and survivorship concerns.
Rapidly evolving oncology treatments have given Edwards new tools to help patients achieve remission, plus more time to form strong, collaborative relationships with them. “I really value my long-term bonds with patients and their families,” she says. “Sometimes I’m even treating multiple generations now.”
On her management days, Edwards’ tasks include coordinating schedules at nine locations, employment, training, policy and program development. Her participation has been pivotal to the improvement and development of several APP-led programs at VOA, expanding the services that PAs and NPs can offer patients.
VOA’s APP-led programs currently include genetic counseling, comprehensive care educational visits, bone marrow biopsy clinic, urgent care oncology clinic, and the survivorship clinic. Edwards has been particularly instrumental in implementing VOA’s Survivorship Program through a partnership with the Sentara network, which creates personalized survivorship plans for patients for continued education and understanding of their care.
VOA has built survivorship discussions into appointments and launched live and virtual classes for patients to support each other and discuss disease-specific concerns and recommendations. Edwards started with breast cancer survivors and plans to expand to other malignancies and add more services as appropriate.
“There can be a lot of anxiety involved as patients transition from the acute treatment phase into routine follow-up care,” Edwards notes. “It’s our responsibility as providers to both listen and educate.”
A Pittsburgh native, Edwards has always had a strong desire to help others. She majored in Parks, Recreation and Environmental Education, with a specialization in Therapeutic Recreation, at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. After graduation, she spent eight years as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist in Colorado, programming for children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities.
Looking for new challenges, Edwards discovered the PA track offered a good work-life balance and completed a Master of Physician Assistant Studies at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. She and her husband enjoy making family memories with their two young children; favorite hobbies include traveling, camping, skiing, and cheering for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
As a PA, Edwards spent a year in orthopaedics before pivoting to oncology. When she arrived at VOA in 2011, she initially worried that her emotionally-driven personality would be a weakness. Instead, it has been her greatest strength.
“Because I do care so much for my patients, I’m very invested in them,” she relates. “I want to provide the best, most individualized care possible, and I want my patients to be part of the decision-making process. I’m always genuine with them, and I like to listen.”
Moving forward, Edwards hopes to continue to expand and grow VOA’s APP-led clinics and educational opportunities for all clinical staff.
“I’m passionate about helping APPs deliver high-quality, compassionate, patient-focused care,” she says. “I feel pride in knowing that I may have made a difference for my patients and my colleagues.”