The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med) hosted a completion ceremony on Wednesday, July 28 for the 23 graduates of the Physician Assistant (PA) Studies Program. Northern Nevada's newest PA's earned the Degree of Master of Physician Assistant Studies after completing the 25-month long full-time master's degree program.
The completion ceremony, held at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, was the final academic milestone for these students who are prepared to enter Nevada's health care workforce after taking the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). After receiving their PANCE certifications, the majority of graduates plan to stay in northern Nevada to practice, helping to increase access to care.
As the students celebrated their achievement, Founding Program Director of the UNR Med PA Studies Program, Brian S. Lauf, DMSc, PA-C, DFAAPA, reflected on the second graduating class of PA Studies Program graduates, since the program launched in 2018.
"We set out to establish a world-class program and our second graduating class represents that success," Lauf said. "Our celebration was kept small as we emerge from the pandemic, but it doesn't diminish their accomplishments and the immense pride we have in our PA graduates."
UNR Med Dean Thomas L. Schwenk, M.D., said the School of Medicine has a strong foundation under which the PA program was built.
"UNR Med's PA Studies Program is a testament to the unwavering commitment of our School of Medicine, our University, our community partners and our state to make a PA Studies program a reality for northern Nevada," said Schwenk. "This high impact program is seeing great successes under the leadership of Brian Lauf, and the exemplary faculty and curriculum that is producing PAs who are prepared to enter practice immediately after graduation."
With graduating PA students stepping into their roles at a most vital time in health care, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Timothy Baker, M.D., spoke to the graduates about the challenges facing today's PA graduates as a result of the pandemic, thanked students for their dedication, and encouraged them as they take the next step in their careers as physician assistants.
"You graduate with a perspective on medicine that is unlike those who came before you. Your perseverance through these difficult times has made you stronger and better equipped to deal with the challenges that lay ahead. You are now in a position to combine that unique perspective with your new knowledge and skills to bring about real change in a changed world. You are a privileged few who have been afforded an opportunity to do this."
Graduating PA student and Class of 2021 President Carrie Holloway said that being a PA student during the COVID-19 pandemic fueled her passion for health care. "I was fortunate enough during this last year to rotate through health care systems across rural Nevada, California, and New Mexico, and seeing them adapt to provide the best care for patients and protect others was extremely motivating."
Those rural rotations also fueled Holloway and her classmates' passion for rural health care, she said. "Many individuals in the Class of 2021 are committed to serving rural communities, whether immediately after graduation, or later in our careers. Clinical rotations made me extremely aware of the health care disparities that exist for rural populations," she said.
Graduating PA student Mary Longero received the Class of 2021 student achievement award. Longero said "PA school is the end of a grueling era and receiving this award affirms the journey was worth it. Words cannot express my gratitude for what the program and the community preceptors saw in myself that I did not always recognize."
Longero expanded that "this was the most challenging, yet rewarding time of my life and the faculty helped me tremendously along the way. My classmates and I persisted through these rigorous last two years and are excited to start our new careers to be able to give back to the community."
Eden spoke to graduates on turning challenges into opportunities. He illustrated his message with a story of a tragic accident that at first seemed to destroy a life, but with time, an unexpected and new road led to a more fulfilling adventure. He encouraged graduates to embrace the struggles and challenges as their careers move forward.
The 25-month long full-time master's degree program is the first such program in the Nevada System of Higher Education. PA Studies Program students take academic and clinical courses, clinical skills training and supervised clinical practice, resulting in a Master of Physician Assistant Studies degree. Upon completion, PAs are qualified to conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, write prescriptions, perform and assist in surgeries.
UNR Med, in partnership with Renown Health created the new PA Studies Program to meet the growing need for more health care professionals locally and statewide. The first class of PA students began instruction on July 2, 2018 at the University of Nevada, Reno Redfield Campus.
Established in 1969, Nevada's first public medical school has educated more than 3,900 students, residents and fellows.