For 13 years, Cheryl Shoffstall, CMA (AAMA), worked in internal medicine and family practice. But when her husband underwent a kidney transplant, she had to say goodbye to the setting she knew so well.
“His transplant surgeon recommended that I find a job that wasn’t in an environment that could possibly bring home illnesses to my husband,” says Shoffstall.
So began her job search. She came across an opening at Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Center in Shiloh, Illinois, applied, and landed the job. “I had never worked in that [environment] before, but immediately fell in love with every aspect of it and have been there ever since,” she says.
As the lead medical assistant, Shoffstall oversees six medical assistants who work alongside three physicians and one physician assistant. All the medical assistants perform routine medical assisting duties, as well as those specific to the practice, such as skin testing, food testing, allergy education about epinephrine, food avoidances, and cross contamination. However, Shoffstall says her favorite responsibility is providing asthma education to newly diagnosed patients. She informs them in detail about how to differentiate asthma from a cough or cold, how to properly use inhalers, and how to recognize what triggers their asthma. She also formulates asthma action plans for patients, so they know what to do depending on the severity of an attack.
“It’s amazing to see the light go on in patients’ heads or to hear them say, ‘No one ever told me that I was supposed to rinse my mouth out after I use my inhalers. I wondered why I had these sores in my mouth,’” Shoffstall says.
Witnessing patients’ health improve also motivates her. “When I see a patient come in with horrible lung function, then get on an appropriate medication regimen and come back in a few months with increased lung function and say, ‘I didn’t know this is what it was like to breathe normally,’ or when a mom tells me ‘my son was able to be in marching band for the first time’ I can’t tell you how rewarding that is,” she says.
Shoffstall’s passion for improving the lives of others extends outside of her daily job. She’s been on 15 missions to Honduras with a church group. “I led a homeless ministry in the St. Louis area where we mainly focused on feeding the poor. A woman I met doing that invited me to go to Honduras,” says Shoffstall.
In 2005, she went on her first trip and enjoyed the experience so much that she kept going back. While the group hires a local physician to treat patients, Shoffstall helps with minor bandages, finger sticks, blood pressure readings, and more. “We’re basically working from a first-aid kit and are limited with supplies and equipment. Our clinics are free, and since people who come don’t have health insurance, they walk for miles and miles to see the physician,” she says.
While on missions, Shoffstall keeps her asthma experience at the ready. “Asthma is my passion and it’s frustrating to see kids who clearly have asthma but don’t have any controllers available. Our pharmacy is able to dispense some liquid Albuterol. To have moms whose children have never seen a physician say thank you makes me want to keep going back,” she says. “If I could go on missions full-time, I would. But it’s great to be able to make an impact at home, too.”