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PA Spotlight PA Embodies Pride and Professionalism

Each year, Pride Month shines a light on the vibrant spectrum of LGBTQ+ experiences. We turn our spotlight on Rea Whitman, MPAS, PA-C, RRT, a 42-year-old Filipina immigrant, LGBTQ+ advocate and disabled Army veteran. Whitman brings her wealth of experience as a correctional health PA.

In addition, Whitman and her wife, Molly, find time for their four dogs, playing rugby matches and amassing an impressive LEGO collection.

Pride Month holds a special significance for Whitman.

“Pride is a time of celebration and embracing individuality. I love seeing the younger generation embracing their identities and fostering togetherness,” she said. “As a woman of color, a veteran and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I face multiple layers of discrimination. But I believe in the power of visibility and the importance of voting and staying informed.”

Whitman’s journey began with her family’s immigration from the Philippines to the U.S., landing first in Hawaii before settling in Texas. Whitman faced the complexities of being LGBTQ+.

“I didn’t come out until I was in the Army around 2005,” she said. “This was the era of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ so it was tough time all around. My parents didn’t speak to me for a while, but they eventually came around to my wedding.”

The military became a pivotal chapter. It offered education opportunities — a dream her parents, who didn’t finish college, had for her.

“I was determined to be the first in my family to graduate,” she said.

Overcoming Obstacles to Become a PA

Initially involved in Army logistics, her science aptitude led a sergeant to suggest a role in respiratory therapy.

This shift brought Whitman into the health care field, where she worked in hospitals, including a burn unit and the U.S. Institute of Surgical Research. It was here that she discovered the PA profession.

After an initial setback in nursing school, she received advice from a former Navy PA, and capitalized on her respiratory therapy experience and pre-med credits to gain admission to a unique program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions.

“It was a new program at the time, with a focus on team-based learning, which appealed to me,” she said.

Building a Life and a Career

Whitman met her spouse at Southern Methodist University through their shared passion for rugby — a sport she discovered in the military.

During the pandemic, the couple relocated from Dallas to Los Angeles to pursue new career opportunities. Whitman gained valuable experience working as a PA in urgent care within the correctional health system for three years. Whitman is now exploring opportunities in the post-pandemic PA job market.

Whitman has advocated for diversity and inclusion in correctional medicine. There were separate wings for LGBTQ+ individuals to protect them from potential abuse.

“The wing also had many HIV and STI patients, and I never judged them,” she said. “I understood their struggles and made sure to chart their information respectfully, using their preferred pronouns and identifying terms.”

Her Role as a PA

Whitman’s diverse background has enhanced her ability to connect with her patients and health care colleagues.

Her military service instilled discipline and the ability to calmly handle high-pressure situations.

“At the top of my mind are the Army values of leadership: loyalty, duty, respect, honor, integrity and personal courage,” Whitman said. “I try to live by these words every day.”

Her advice to young PAs entering the profession is to remain involved with their local PA associations.

“It’s not just about graduating and making money;” Whitman said, “it’s about contributing to the PA community and supporting legislative changes that impact our work. Remember to give back, mentor others and stay engaged to prevent burnout.”