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Resident Spotlight: Erika Cummings, PA-C

Friday, October 5, 2018

This week’s “Spotlight” interview shines on Erika Cummings, PA-C, a physician assistant and our newest APP resident. In this interview, Cummings talks to us about how the puzzle-solving aspects of diagnosis and ever-evolving treatments inspired her to join our residency program. She also discusses her excitement at exploring the subspecialities of neurology during her training and how she keeps her passion and undergraduate training in music a part of her daily life.

How long have you been at Duke? What was your position before you joined the APP residency program?
I’ve just started the year-long APP residency after graduating from the Wake Forest School of Medicine Physician Assistant program in May.

What are your current responsibilities as an APP resident? What does a typical day for you look like?
Depending on the rotation, my days will have a mix of outpatient clinics, inpatient experience and lectures. After seeing patients, I get to discuss their exams, diagnoses and treatment plans with providers all across the Department, all of who are incredibly approachable. There is also so much research and innovation happening at Duke that’s exciting to attempt to keep up with!

How did you decide to join the APP residency program?
My clinical rotations in neurology, rehab and geriatrics were all fantastic experiences that left me craving further education in how to come alongside patients with neurological disorders. I’m drawn to the puzzle-solving nature of neurology as well as the constantly-evolving research and therapies for diseases that have historically gone untreated. The APP residency program (currently the only neurology residency in the country!) is setting a precedent for providing APPs with a path to practice neurology at the top of their game. I’m thankful for the opportunity to continue my training in an academic atmosphere where I can gain valuable experience and confidence.

What are your plans for after you complete your fellowship?
I haven’t decided what I’ll be doing after the program, but I’m excited to let this year’s explorations of various subspecialties guide my future plans. I’m also interested in PA education. I feel torn in many different directions within neurology, but I take that as a sign that I’m in the right field!

What elements of being a physician assistant do you enjoy the most, and why?
Although I am a freshly-minted PA, I am already so thankful to be a part of this profession. I love that this is a career of lifelong learning, challenging yourself to adapt to changes in medicine, and working directly with inspiring patients and care teams. The PA profession is still relatively young and adapting to changes in larger medical structures, so it’s an exciting time to enter the field.

I think that although we subscribe to the idea that medicine is a science, when you hit the clinic you’re dealing with people who don’t fit into neat boxes and have really messy, complicated problems. The privilege of supporting people and their caregivers through some of their most vulnerable struggles is not one that I take for granted.

You were a musical accompanist at the University of Oklahoma for three years. What did that experience involve? Do you still have time to practice music?
My undergraduate degree was in piano performance. As a pianist, I got to work with all kinds of instruments, vocalists and ensembles in addition to solo performances. Music has always given me a lot of joy and connection with other people, and the ability to spend four years giving it most of my focus was very formative for me. My focus has obviously shifted, but I’m working regular practice back into my life and hoping to collaborate with other musicians in the Durham area.

What other passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
Anything and everything outdoors and with good friends - running, hiking, biking, camping…I grew up in Colorado and am used to mountains that are a little rockier, but I love exploring the Blue Ridge and Smoky mountains since transplanting to North Carolina. Durham has a great arts scene that will be fun to get to know, not to mention the amazing food from all over the world!

Blowing Rock
Cummings and friends enjoy the beauty of western North Carolina.