New Medical Director Shares Her Path to Leadership

A decade into her career, physician assistant will oversee SoCal’s Providence ExpressCare.

Marina Sarwary has a message for anyone considering working at a Providence ExpressCare: It’s an organization that listens and cares.

"If you have suggestions or recommendations, they will be heard and considered," she says. "It's a wonderful organization that has heart, cares and wants your feedback. Your voice matters here."

With her promotion from Physician Assistant to Medical Director over all Providence ExpressCare clinics in southern California, Marina is now a voice for all the advanced practice clinicians (APCs), as well as medical assistants and support staff that make ExpressCare one of the most popular healthcare options in Providence’s seven-state footprint.

Her promotion is notable because the role is typically reserved for physicians. She says she could hardly believe it when Senior Recruiter Mary Kay Moreau, of Provider Solutions & Development, called to tell her she'd been chosen for the role of Medical Director.

"I had to ask Mary Kay to repeat herself," she says. "It took a minute to sink in. The fact that Providence has given me this opportunity is so exciting. Providence is one of the leading healthcare organizations in the country. My hope is that this can be an example for other health systems of how we can operate in the on-demand healthcare space."

"For me, as a female and as an APC, it feels like such an honor, and I want to do the best I can to be a champion for ExpressCare and to lead this incredible organization. I want to be a role model for our amazing clinicians, and I want them to know this is possible. If I can do this, you can too."

From PA to Medical Director
Marina began her new role in February 2021, after a decade of service in on-demand clinics in southern California, the last five of which were at Providence, as part of its float pool, alternating between Orange County Providence ExpressCare clinics.

"I would go to a different clinic every day, wherever they needed me," she says. "It was a really good experience to prepare me for the role I’m in now."

As she began the application process of applying for the Medical Director position, she got to know Mary Kay with PS&D.

"Mary Kay was fantastic; it was like I was speaking to a long-lost friend," Marina says. "She made the whole process so enjoyable and seamless. I had several virtual panel interviews, and she took care of everything, from my application process to the scheduling to helping me get prepared. It was like magic; her attention to detail and customer service were incredible. It was the best experience I’ve ever had with a recruiter."

In her new role, Marina says it will be her mission to strengthen the more than 20 Providence ExpressCare clinics in southern California’s Orange and LA counties. Many of them had to close their doors temporarily during the COVID surges of 2020, transferring services to telehealth. Others converted to “clean clinics,” which only treated non-COVID-related issues.

"I'm so proud of everyone and the amazing care we continued to provide under trying circumstances," she says. "Now we see that light at the end of the tunnel, and our goal is to open our clinics, onboard our new providers, get aligned with other regions, collaborate and partner with our Providence ministries and Providence medical groups and continue to help our patients."

Providence entered the retail healthcare market in 2015, with a launch of 34 ExpressCare clinics in Portland and Seattle. In 2019, it undertook a rapid expansion, adding clinics in California, Montana and Alaska, in part by building out many within Walgreens drugstores. Today, at more than 65 clinics, Providence Express Care is one of the largest retail medicine providers on the West Coast.

Marina says for her, and for many, Providence ExpressCare is a model that has much to offer nurse practitioners and physician assistants, from broad scope of practice to convenient scheduling to a close-knit, supportive culture.

After recruiting dozens of clinicians into Providence ExpressCare roles, Mary Kay agrees.

"They are the happiest of the happiest employees," she says. "From a clinician standpoint, it’s very satisfying to be able to help people in the moment. They’re not managing chronic conditions. ExpressCare providers get to help with a problem, see tangible results, and know they are helping their patients feel better."

Discovering Her Path

Marina says she knew she wanted to be an NP or PA when, as a young student, her mother fell ill.

"I was a junior in college, and my Mom found out she had stage three gastric cancer," Marina says. "She was given a one-year prognosis to live, and it was such a helpless feeling."

Throughout her mother’s lengthy ordeal with cancer, which ended with a miraculous recovery, it was nurse practitioners and physician assistants who provided the most care and who were there for her mother, day in and day out.

"It really turned my head around," Marina says. "I had been thinking I'd go to medical school and become a doctor, but this experience really showed me the critical role of NPs and PAs in patient care."

As a PA, Marina found that she loved the middle ground ExpressCare provided — it was the space between primary care and the emergency room. She loved doing procedures, helping people who needed care fast, and acting as an extension of a primary care doctor. But most of all, she loved the people.

"It's almost like a work family," she says. "We are all there for each other, and even with my colleagues I've met virtually, when we talk, it’s like we’ve always known each other. It’s an extremely supportive environment that fosters trust and growth."

Marina says she’s grateful for her path, which led her to a position where she can pave the way now for other advanced practice clinicians.

"I want people to want to work here," she says. "If I have my medical assistants and my APCs wanting to succeed, that’s all I can ask for. Their vision is more important than mine. Helping them to grow and be inspired, and having them help our patients, that’s my number one goal."

In this new, largely administrative role, Marina says it may be a bit hard for her to stop seeing patients herself. She plans on popping into an exam room now and then, to reconnect with why she got into medicine. But she’s thrilled that for now, she can make a difference in a broader, strategic sense.

"I went into medicine to take care of patients, so yes, I am absolutely going to miss it, but in helping our providers, I’m indirectly helping patients," she says. "When I am helping to refine protocols and workflows, my ultimate goal is to help the people who need our care. And at the end of the day, if that makes our patients happy, then that makes me happy."

In the image above, Medical Director Marina Sarwary, left, promotes Providence ExpressCare clinics with the help of Medical Assistant Citlali Lara Marquez.