How I landed the job: Dana Dempsey, Hand and Wrist Specialist at OrthoCarolina

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This story is part of a series on “How I landed the job,” going step-by-step through job changes and negotiations at some of Charlotte’s best places to work. To be considered for a story, please email cristina@charlotteagenda.com.

Dana Dempsey, Hand and Wrist Specialist at OrthoCarolina

The path, as told by Dana:

(lightly edited for brevity and clarity)

OrthoCarolina is a fantastic organization. I always knew it was a great place to be, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Four years ago, I stumbled upon this job.

I’ve always been very active and played sports in college. During undergrad, I knew I wanted to do something in the medical field, but I didn’t know what.

My basketball coach had a best friend who was a physician’s assistant.

She as like, “Oh my gosh, have you considered [PA school]?” And at the time, I didn’t think I wanted to be someone’s assistant.

My brother-in-law works for OrthoCarolina as a spine surgeon, and when I moved to Charlotte in 2007, he got me plugged in shadowing PAs to get a better feel for which medical route I wanted to go. I met a few PAs, and I fell in love with these people who loved their jobs. It seemed like a good career, especially because of the flexibility aspect.

I enrolled in Wake Forest University for graduate school. I didn’t know what I wanted to focus on, but I knew I would end up in orthopedics because it made sense with my athletic background. I had no idea that a hand PA was even a thing. I usually think of sports as people tearing their ACLs and breaking ankles and hips. I don’t really think of the hand.

dana dempsey

During my clinical rotation at Wake Forest, I went back to OrthoCarolina to work with the PAs again.

This is when I met Dr. Chadderdon, who I work for today. Kevin Brown was my liaison, and he mentioned that there was a hand doctor who had time available for me.

I was like, Hand surgeon? What? I knew nothing about hands. How boring could that be?

Well, no one else was available, so I went over there, keeping an open mind. I was blown away. I loved the way Dr. Chadderdon spoke with his patients, and I learned how intricate and detailed the hand can be. I instantly clicked with him, and at the end of the day, he told me he was looking for an assistant. And since I was graduating in two months, the timing was perfect.

At the time, I actually had a job offer to help start an orthopedic practice in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. I thought it sounded a little risky and temporary, and I didn’t know if I would want to stay there for long. I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity working for Dr. Chadderdon, so I turned down the offer in St. Croix. The doctor there said, “Why don’t you come visit anyway?” So I went, and we had a good time. I got to see the health care system down there while also enjoying some vacation time before starting my job.

I started working with Dr. Chadderdon in August 2012, and we’re still going strong today.

My schedule varies depending on the day of the week. But weekly, things are pretty consistent. Most of the time I have about two-and-a-half days of operating. I help with pre- and post-op orders and prescriptions, splinting, and casting. When I’m not operating, I’m in the clinic seeing between 50-80 patients a week on my own. These people are dealing with hand problems, from carpel tunnel to tendonitis to fingers cut off by gosh-knows-what (depends on the season!) It’s very variable in the clinic.

Most of my things are fixable.

That’s one thing I really like about the hand world. Usually our patients come in with something I can fully help them with, whether it’s giving them a brace or fixing something that is broken. Most everyone undergoes out-patient procedures. They aren’t sick, and we aren’t wondering if their health is at risk.

Besides that, we are assigned to being on call and working in urgent care. I don’t work urgent care too often anymore, but I put in a lot of hours there when I first started. It’s a great way to chop down student debt. These days I work it as much as I need to but focus on the clinic and surgery.

There is a certain degree of stress when you have to interact with people. I manage stress through exercise. I try to exercise on a daily basis. It doesn’t always happen, but it helps me keep my head on straight.

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And I love to travel, especially for athletic events. I’m always looking for a race or triathlon to work into my schedule. I’ve done two full Iron Men in 2014 and 2015. (I was actually hit by car while training for an Iron Man, and Dr. Chadderdon put my wrist back to together. It gave me a good perspective on what my patients go through!)

This year, I focused on type 1 diabetes. I was diagnosed with it in PA school, and it’s something I have to balance daily as well.

I’ve put a lot of my focus on JDRF and recently raised over $8,000 for the cause. Most of my friends and family didn’t even know I had it. My goal this year was to be more vocal about it. Why not be an advocate for it and help try to find a cure?

As I always say: I’d rather be busy than bored.

Wearing a bunch of hats and trying to be good at each hat is challenging – but challenge accepted.

Browse careers at OrthoCarolina here.

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