A Superior native and surgical physician assistant at St. Luke’s Regional Health System in Duluth earned honors for teaching from the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Physician Assistant Katie Sorensen of Superior is the 2021 recipient of the Preceptor of the Year Award.

The award, given by the AAPA and Physician Assistant Education Association, honors a preceptor who demonstrates exemplary service in the clinical education of physician assistant students as a mentor, role model and instructor.

“Specifically, what I teach is surgery,” Sorensen said. “PA students have a clinical year where they have to do training in many different core areas before graduating and one of them is a surgery rotation. I’ve been precepting now for about 10 years.”

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According to an article published by the APPA, Sorensen started teaching one year out of PA school and teaches an average of 7-8 students per year for 4- to 6-week rotations. So far in her career, she has worked with 80 students as they worked toward their Master of Science in physician assistant studies.

“This is an incredible award to win for someone in our hometown, born and raised,” said Katy Johnson, medical records manager with St. Luke’s.

Sorensen grew up in the Four Corners area of rural Superior and now lives in Superior with her husband, Brian, and their three children, the youngest of whom was born in May, she said.

“My interest in medicine really stemmed from my interest in the human body and helping others,” Sorensen said.

While still in high school, Sorensen said she enrolled in the certified nursing assistant program at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. Her work as a nursing assistant helped her realize she didn’t want to go into nursing.

“I wanted to be more involved in the interpretation of things, the diagnosis and treatment plans a little more,” Sorensen said. “Also, I did not want to go to medical school given the long time commitment and multiple moves.”

That’s when she learned about the physician assistant profession.

After graduating in 2004 from Superior High School, Sorensen attended the University of Wisconsin-Superior where she earned her Bachelor of Science in biology in 2008.

“The hard part about PA school is getting in,” Sorensen said. “It’s extremely competitive.”

Good grades, health care experience and volunteer work helped her get in the first year she tried, she said.

On average, she said PA school takes 24-27 months to complete. In 2010, she earned her Master of Science in physician assistant studies from Des Moines University.

She started her career as a general surgery PA at Essentia Health, but she has worked for St. Luke’s for the last five years. She’s served as a preceptor at both health systems.

“Most of my students come from PA schools throughout the Midwest,” Sorensen said. “I do a lot from St. Scholastica here in Duluth, but I also take others. We try to get students from the area or those who want to practice in the area just to start making those connections.”

There’s value for students to see high-quality practicing providers that are good communicators and part of the health care team, she said.

Tony Valentine, general surgery, and Chris Sutton, cardiothoracic surgery, were two physician assistants Sorensen said she worked with in Duluth when she was a student, and both played a role in her decision to practice general surgery.

“I think it’s important to be a mentor and a role model for those that are studying medicine and want to be excellent providers when they’re done,” Sorensen said. “I think it’s important to see a profession that has high-quality practicing providers.”