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PA Alum Ken Korber Uses a Musical Cast of Characters to Explain COVID-19

November 2, 2020

Author Ken Korber holding Grace Fights COVID-19 book cover with Eckhartz Press publishers Rick Kaempfer and David SternIf you asked alumnus and Person of Purpose Ken Korber what the trajectory of his career would be when he graduated from CNHP/Hahnemann's physician assistant (PA) program in 1991, it would not have involved helping kids read while giving them or reinforcing messages about health. Yet, everything he's done throughout his professional life, including 20-plus years of clinical experience, has led him to become a very successful children's book author.

News of the impact of the pandemic on frontline care providers has been everywhere. Early on, we knew the mental and physical toll it had taken on all medical professionals, including physician assistants. And while Korber, as a clinician, is only doing COVID-19 discharge support at a hospital, his focus and contribution amidst this global health crisis has been the effect on and education of the youngest patient population and their families.

One of Korber's most recent titles was born from a simple check-in with parents and customers about how they were handling the pandemic. "I was surprised by the volume and kinds of responses I received—how can I explain what a virus is or why my three- to six-year-old child can't see their teachers and friends," he volunteered. Immediately he got to work figuring out how his characters—Grace and her crew—could help parents and kids cope with this new and scary coronavirus about which we knew very little. Within three weeks, "Grace Fights Covid-19: A Training Manual for the Musical Adventures Bug Squad" was ready to go in its print format. Korber's aim, as with the entire Musical Adventures of Grace™ series he created along with his nonprofit, The Center for Functional Learning Ltd, was to give parents conversation starters and resources with activities they could use to show and clarify important, relevant topics. There is so much need to connect with kids around medical issues in a way that makes sense to them. Grace's health-related spinoff was a way for Korber to incorporate what he had learned practicing medicine as a PA and delivering healthcare, with stories that would extend a 10-minute visit to include bedtime reading sessions. "At their core, these books and characters are engagement tools," said Korber. "Clinicians are able to use them, leave them in their waiting rooms, or give them to the kids when they leave the hospital, clinic or office—with the next appointment attached to the storybook. Families can then read the same messages they just heard in the PA's office, at home, to draw the encounter out within a relaxed, family setting and reinforce patient education."

Ken Korber examining a patient with suspected digital thrombophlebitis in 2000.Being professionally agile is a prominent characteristic of physician assistants in the healthcare team. During their training, PAs absorb a vast amount of medical and surgical knowledge, like their medical school counterparts. They also develop a highly adaptable skillset and gain wide-ranging experience which they can then take anywhere along a multi-decade career path. Korber noted that PAs with this fundamental, evidence-based education can start a career in specialty surgery and then move to any medical specialty as they gain experience. "Doctors have a more difficult time when wanting to move from specialty to specialty like that—without extra training or going back to school and doing another residency or fellowship program," stated Korber. "I remember seeing data that suggested that the average PA changes professional areas at least three times in their careers."

In his case, Korber's clinical interests started in surgery—general, orthopedic and vascular—and as his family grew and his quality of life needs changed, he moved into cardiovascular outpatient care and academic medical education and children's book author and patient education specialist.

When asked what he would say to an individual considering a future as a physician assistant, Korber would enthusiastically say, "Do it!" Being a PA changed his whole perspective of the world—it was a true game-changer. "It opens up your professional world in ways you couldn't imagine," he explained. With ten books to his credit, including one on fire safety and burn prevention he wrote with friend and fellow Hahnemann PA alumnus, Paul Possenti, and one he wrote in conjunction with rock star and actor Steven Van Zandt, and the eleventh in press, Ken Korber's career has been one he least expected and most loves.

Ken Korber (center) with Eckhartz Press publishers Rick Kaempfer and David Stern holding cover of Grace’s Rockin’ Roll Adventure.

Written by Roberta S. Perry