Joy Burke’s not a nurse, but still provides care

Each year, five women are chosen by the Punxsutawney Career Women’s Club for Career Women’s Week, which this year runs through Nov. 13. The criteria used for choosing these women are based not only on their professional efforts, but also on the contributions they have made to community and family.
The club was founded in 1930, originally known as Punxsutawney Business & Professional Women’s Club. Sept. 8, 1998, the club name was changed and incorporated as a non-profit organization under the name of Punxsutawney Career Women’s Club, with objectives to promote growth and respect of women in the workplace; improve self-esteem in all careers; educate women; and support community projects.

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Joy Burke has spent half her life working in the medical field, 25 years of it as the practice manager for Punxsutawney Medical Associates.

Burke majored in medical-secretarial and graduated with a degree from DuBois Business College. In 1985, she went to work for surgeon Dr. Robert Greene in Indiana.

In 1986, she married John Burke, moved to Punxsutawney from her hometown of Rochester Mills and began working for the Medical Associates at that time.

“I wanted to be a nurse, but I didn’t think I could handle the duties of nursing,” Burke said, adding that now, she looks back on it and said she could’ve been a nurse.

“One thing about working at the Medical Associates: A lot of us started over 15 years ago and have been there a long time,” she said. “I’ve watched families where the kids go from a newborn phase, to school, off to college and even some when they got married and had their own families who continue to be patients to this day.”

She said she can’t quite believe she’s been around long enough to witness that.

Formerly known as the Punxsutawney Area Health Center, the Medical Associates office has been a rural health clinic since 1989.

Burke said one day, she took her mother for a doctor’s appointment on the first floor of the Medical Arts Building and ran into a friend who knew she was looking for a job. The friend told her about an opening, so Burke took one of her resumes that she had in her car to the office and was called for an interview the next day.

Even though she applied for a secretarial position, less than a week later, the practice manager resigned, and fresh out of school, Burke was offered the practice manager position.

Besides she and Dr. Jay Elder — they started the same day — the practice at that time included Dr. Joe Kernich and Dr. Andrew Farkas.

“We only had half of the second floor at that time,” Burke said. “So, we’ve really grown now that we inhabit the entire second floor of the building.”

Back then, Jefferson County was considered a shortage area, which is part of the reason why the practice became a rural health clinic, Burke said, adding that over the years, she has seen three generations grow up in the practice.

“It’s sad though, because I’ve seen a lot of people when I first joined the practice who’ve passed away,” she said. “But, we still have their family members who continue to come to our practice for medical care.”

Burke said she can walk down the hall and know most of the practice’s patients.

“That’s one thing that I pride myself on, is we know our patients by their first names,” she said. “I shop at the grocery store, attend church with these people. I can be at the bank, and at the drive-up window, I’ve had people knocking on my windshield, asking me if I can change an appointment, or help them with the many insurance issues we have to deal with.”

Burke said she enjoys helping patients with the many complex insurance issues.

“I try to find something that is suitable for them and their needs,” she said, a process that can take many phone calls to solve an insurance problem.

“It’s bad enough if you’re sick; the last thing you want to worry about is ‘Will my insurance cover this cat scan or MRI?’” she said. “The bills for these tests are thousands of dollars, so if I can bring peace of mind to some people, I’m glad to do it.

“If it weren’t for our patients, our practice wouldn’t be what it is today,” Burke said. “I want them to know if they needs us, we’re just a phone call away. Just to give them peace of mind.”

When it first opened, the office had a staff of about 10. Today, that’s up to 20 that sees about 140 patients per day.

Burke is also the liaison between the Punxsutawney Area School District and the practice, which has become the physicians for the district, performing the physicals and administering flu shots.

After work, Burke enjoys spending time with her family, which, in addition to husband Joe, includes sons Luke and Noah, daughter Sarah and grandchild Ella Grace Burke.

“Living in a smaller community, I feel it’s a safe place for my kids to grow up in,” she said. “In watching my own kids and how they’ve grown, I feel safe in sending them to the schools here.

“Being a working mom has its challenges, and I make sure everything is good to go for my family before I go to the office,” she said.

Burke said she still enjoys her job very much, and if a patient comes in upset and leaves with a smile, “I like being the cause of that smile, not the frown.

“I received a thank-you card from a lady who lives in South Carolina recently who thanked me for helping her mother when she couldn’t be here,” Burke said, adding that it was the first thank-you card she had ever received over her 25 years at the Medical Associates.

“I keep that card on my filing cabinet to remind me that is what I’m here for,” she said. “I want to be there to lend an ear when a patient needs me, laugh with people and cry with people.

“One day, I cried all the way home,” Burke said. “It’s more than a job, and I want to be there for the right reasons. The bottom line is, if it weren’t for the patients, none of us would be here.”