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Inaugural class of the Physician Assistant program commits to the profession

September 16, 2017

Kara Kinnison always knew she wanted to work in the health care field and originally enrolled at Saint Louis University as a pre-med student.

But the fit wasn’t right. Then, the Saint Charles, Mo., native learned about physician assistants, members of a healthcare team who can begin working in the medical field in about two years, a fraction of the time it takes to become a practicing physician. 

Kinnison, who eventually received a B.A. in chemistry from SLU, was sold.

“I knew right away becoming a PA was what I wanted to do,” she said.

Kinnison was among the inaugural class of 20 students of the Stephens College Master of Physician Assistant program who committed to the profession on Sept. 16 during the program’s first White Coat Ceremony at the Firestone Baars Chapel. The event marked the end of 13 months of didactic education and the beginning of 14 months of clinical training.

Medical Director Dr. Sayed Naqvi told students that wearing the white coat is a huge responsibility.

“Once you touch the patient, it is not only their body, “ he said, “you are touching their heart, you are touching their soul, you are healing them.”

Naqvi also said the PA students will play an important role in shoring up a physician shortage expected to reach 100,000 in the United States over the next 10 years. PAs can practice in a wide variety of medical fields, including all primary care, as well as all specialty areas. They work in rural settings, major metropolitan areas, in the armed forces, and in doctor’s offices, clinics and hospitals.

The ceremony’s keynote speaker, Dr. Sam Simms, who works in emergency medicine at St. Mary’s Hospital in Jefferson City, said medical personnel who wear the white coat are afforded special privileges because they often witness a side of humanity few others view.

“You will see courage like you’ve never seen before,” he said. “When someone says to you, ‘Thank you for saving my life,’ it’s an incredible feeling.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of PAs is expected to grow by 39 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Classroom instruction in the Stephens’ PA program occurs in the state-of-the-art Center for Health Sciences in Sampson Hall. Clinical rotations include family medicine, women’s health, pediatrics, general surgery, general internal medicine, behavioral medicine and emergency medicine. Stephens’ PA program is a revitalization of a PA program the college offered in 1975, which was one of the first such programs in the country.

Ty Scheets of Houston, Mo., said he knew he wanted to become a PA the moment he realized he wanted more out of healthcare than a job.

“I’m proud of how far I’ve come,” said Scheets, who received a degree in radiologic sciences from the University of Missouri. “But I have a long way to go, and I am in awe of what there is to learn.”

Kinnison said the Stephens PA program has made the journey worth all her hard work.

“As cheesy as it may sound, the people are really what make this program unique,” she said. “The staff has an unparalleled dedication to our education and success, while as students we all support each other in both our academic and personal lives.”

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