Alumni Profile: Cara Semelsberger University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences


Cara Semelsberger (BS '13, MS '16)


Physician Assistant in private practice in St. Petersburg, FL; specializes in Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery

SHRS Programs Attended:

  • Rehabilitation Science
  • Physician Assistant Studies

Q: What made you interested in the Physician Assistant Studies program?

Cara: I knew going into college that I wanted to do something in the health care field. I went to an open house at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) and got to see a lot of the different fields and career paths that they offered. I saw the Physician Assistant Studies program, and having shadowed physicians before, I knew I was interested in pursuing medicine further. So I read about the PA program and talked to current students and felt that was something I really wanted to be a part of.

Q: Was there something about being a physician assistant that you found particularly attractive?

Cara: Yes, I really wanted to be in a career that dealt with identification, treatment, and management of diseases. With the PA program, you can begin working right away after a two-year master's degree in addition to a bachelor's degree. Also, it is a career in which I can continuously learn as we are always changing the way we manage conditions, with new diseases being found and treated in different ways every day. It enables me to be a lifelong learner.

Q: Tell us about the work you do now.

Cara: Right now, I'm a PA at a private practice which specializes in pediatric orthopedic surgery. Our practice is in St. Petersburg, Florida, which is where I currently live. We're affiliated with Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. Our practice consists of six physicians and there are also six other PAs that I work with. I work in many different settings. I work in an inpatient setting as well as seeing patients in an outpatient clinical setting and we assist in surgery as well. I think surgery is probably the most challenging for me, but I also find that it's the most interesting. I love being directly hands-on and in surgery I get to do that.

Q: What kind of impact do you hope that your work has?

Cara: In pediatric orthopedics most of the time we are treating conditions, but there are other key elements we practice including prevention and rehabilitation. We get to see children through the whole spectrum of their conditions. It is very rewarding -- helping kids through their difficult times and getting them back doing the things they love to do. We also work extensively with children who have varying physical disabilities. For some of these children we are able to assist in making them ambulatory and as active as possible. We also have the opportunity to counsel kids on preventing injuries and educating them on how to live overall active and healthy lifestyles, which you hope will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Q: How did the undergraduate Rehabilitation Science program prepare you for the Physician Assistant Studies program?

Cara: I don't know if it's because they're both Pitt programs, but I felt that because of my undergraduate career I was very prepared, not even necessarily just for the PA program, but when it came to learning how to be a professional medical provider. Many of the classes taught me extensively about disabilities, both physical and intellectual, and prepared me to communicate with people appropriately and professionally.

Q: Do you think the PA program prepared you for what you're doing now?

Cara: Yes, I definitely do. I think looking back at the program, I thought it was very challenging, but since I've graduated and started my career I couldn't imagine how it could have been any easier, to be as prepared as I am now. The program taught me what I needed to know in order to be a good PA, especially when I think about going into surgery. We had such fantastic medical opportunities in Pittsburgh and I was able to participate in these surgical opportunities, as much as a PA student can; so when it came time to assist in surgery for my current position, for a recent PA graduate, I feel like I had more experience than many.

Q: Are there any professors in particular that helped you succeed?

Cara: For my Rehabilitation Science undergraduate education, Program Director Sondra Balouris was very helpful. Actually before I was admitted to the program, I took an introductory class at SHRS that she taught. Through this class she helped me to understand what career path I wanted. Then through my years as a student in SHRS, she helped me prepare for PA school and stay focused in achieving that goal. My advisor, Amy Evans, also helped me significantly, always extending opportunities outside of the classroom. They really helped me get to where I am now.

In the PA program, Assistant Professor David Beck helped me. He is a phenomenal educator and PA -- one of the best professors I've ever had. He's very invested in the PA profession. He’s very dedicated to educating future PAs and giving us the tools and knowledge that we need to not only become PAs, but to become great physician assistants. It's an honor to have had the opportunity to be taught by him.

Q: What type of career goals do you have?

Cara: I'm really happy in the career field that I'm in now. I love being a physician assistant. I also really wanted to work in orthopedics and I think having a rehabilitation background also helps me do that. I hope to improve my surgical skills, and that often just comes with practice and time. I also hope to become more involved in our state physician assistants association, which is the program that we have that supports PAs and legislation regarding PA practice in the state of Florida.

Q: How do you spend your time outside of work?

Cara: I moved to Florida after PA school and before that I had lived in Pennsylvania my whole life, so I really try to take advantage of the weather here. I spend as much time outside as possible. I live pretty close to the beach so I spend a lot of time there. And the city of St. Petersburg is actually known for its arts so I’ve been immersing myself in the artistic culture that is here with the museums and art shows. Activity-wise, I actually started paddle boarding, which is something that you can't really do in Pittsburgh.

Q: Do you have any advice for students considering a health profession?

Cara: For people who are considering a field of study that's in health and rehabilitation, I advise them to try their best to become a part of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. I really feel that the school prepared me for where I am today in my career. I would tell those students who are entering SHRS that when they set their goals and choose their career path, to continue to work toward them, regardless of how challenging and competitive that path can be, because it will be well worth it.

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Photos provided by Cara Semelsberger

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