Most people don't continue working at the age of 76. And most people don't get both knees replaced at the same time. And certainly, most people don't return to work two weeks later, at any age.
But Bill Parker, Physician Assistant to Kenneth Bramlett, MD at Bramlett Orthopedics, is not most people.
Parker graduated from the UAB Physician Assistant program in the second graduating class. After serving in the Air Force, he had been working as a scrub technician in South Carolina when he learned about the PA program in Birmingham. "The problem was, when I heard about it, the classes were starting the next Thursday," Parker said. He interviewed with Margaret Kirklin (wife of John W. Kirklin, MD), was accepted into the program, and moved to Birmingham all within a week.
He did not expect to be a PA for the rest of his career. The original plan called for him to use it as a stepping stone to medical school. "I enjoyed this work so much, I never even applied to med school," he said.
He has seen many changes for PAs over the years. "There was not much legislation about PAs in the 70s," he said. "The state of Alabama left it to the hospital and doctors to decide what you could do, so we had a lot of autonomy in the early years."
Although his profession has seen many changes, he still enjoys going to work, and says he is not willing to retire yet, despite his double knee replacement earlier this year. He chose to have both knees replaced at the same time, and by the orthopedic surgeon he has worked with for 27 years. "There was no other person in this world I'd have do it," he said. "Dr. Bramlett is brilliant, has done over 400 of these procedures, and is organized, disciplined and dogmatic about his surgery. When he finishes, it is right."
Parker wouldn't recommend bilateral replacement to everyone. "It's not a procedure I recommend unless they know what they're getting into," he said. "I put off the surgery as long as I could, eight years after injuring a knee while jogging. It's hard to go to work and pretend you're fine when you are hurting. I couldn't do it anymore, and both knees hurt. I knew exactly what to expect, and that makes a difference."
Two weeks later he was back at work. "I love going to work," Parker said. "None of the cases are the same. You can have two 220-pound ladies, but they'll need different size knees. It keeps you wondering what you'll see next. It's like a Cracker Jack box. That's what's kept my enthusiasm about it. It's not hard to get up and go into work. The people are great. We all know each other and can all depend on each other."
He has focused his work somewhat over the past few years. "Paperwork is a time consuming job," he said. "Seeing and educating the patient, doing the history and physical, following them every day on rounds, takes a lot of time. Dr. Bramlett came to me and asked me to just work in the operating room.
"So now, I'm a hospital-based PA. I spend 99 percent of my time in the OR. I don't find it to be drudgery. If I did, I would quit. But I'm definitely slowing down."
He may be slowing down, but he still exerts a great deal of influence in his profession. "I love to teach," he said. "We've got bright kids coming out of the program today. I don't know if I could have met the current criteria."
Perhaps his longest legacy, however, will be the Bill Parker Endowed Scholarship in Physician Assistant Studies. Three years ago he established the endowment fund which provides a $1500 scholarship to current or future students in the program. He hopes other PAs will follow suit and start an endowment fund of their own. "There are a lot of PAs out there who have been in practice for 20 to 25 years," he said. "If I can do this, they can do it too. I wanted to do this for my school."
Bill Parker (left) has been practicing with Dr. Kenneth Bramlett (right) for 27 years.