Nearly 90 members of Yale School of Medicine’s (YSM) Online Physician Assistant (PA) Program classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022 — and hundreds of family and friends — gathered May 6 at Woolsey Hall to celebrate the program’s first graduation ceremony. Since the first cohort of students started the 28-month program in January 2018, 162 have completed the program and obtained their Masters of Medical Science (MMSc).
Because students in the program are participating from their home communities — 42 states and the District of Columbia in all three classes — the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented an in-person ceremony, even a grad-only ceremony, prior to this year. Program Director James Van Rhee, MS, PA-C, acknowledges “the irony that we are an online program but don’t have an online degree. I wanted us to come together to celebrate. Van Rhee called the graduates trailblazers and said the program “has pushed the boundaries of innovation not just in PA education, but in medical education.”
In her remarks congratulating the graduates, Jessica Illuzzi, MD, MS, associate dean for education and Harold W. Jockers professor of medical education, said, “When this program started, we heard some skepticism about courses and online courses. As we all know, the pandemic has dramatically changed the world’s view on distance learning, and Yale PA’s online program had a head start on how to creatively use technology to make the engaging online learning.
Addressing the Shortage of Primary Care Providers
Illuzzi said one of the reasons Yale created the program was to help address the shortage of primary care providers in the United States. “This program uniquely supports students to live, learn and eventually work in their home community,” Illuzzi said, adding that the tremendous geographic diversity of graduates “shows the potential for this program to impact the health care needs of our country Wherever your career takes you, whether it’s your home community or a new location, whether you practice primary care, as many of you will, or in a practice specialized, you will provide essential care to your future patients.
Noting how COVID-19 has complicated the logistics of clinical training and put healthcare providers on the front lines, Illuzzi thanked the families and friends who supported graduates throughout the program and expressed gratitude to “ all of our graduates for wanting to serve in a profession where caring for others is the highest priority.
A representative from each class gave a speech; a theme that ran through all of their remarks was the impact of the pandemic on their class’ experience in the program.
Two months after her class enrolled, the pandemic began and, as Erin Hillis described MMSc ’22, as the world was turned upside down, “this class never missed a beat and kept going.” She reflected on the challenges – including classmates who have children at home after school and spouses who have lost their jobs – and asked the graduates to turn and look at family and friends in the audience. “These people behind us are our reason, our push to keep fighting. With everything against our favor, we defied the odds, with the help and support of faculty and our support systems. We came here today, together, to graduate, to leave and provide our communities with the best medical care everyone deserves.
Mary Elliott, PhD, MMSc ’21, PA-C, similarly observed, “We’ve all faced challenges in becoming AM, whether it’s quiet setbacks on the one hand or, on the other hand, major disruptions that I consider “cosmic effects” like COVID -19, which rocked the plan along the way, both before and during PA school. She asked her classmates to think about who their anchors were “when the comet hit and the ground crumbled.” Elliott said graduation day was about these people and thanked them “for anchoring us when the center didn’t hold up.”
“We are among those who have chosen to help.”
Shiva Kasravi, MMSc ’20, PA-C, shared a story his family told him about life in wartime Iran, which reminded him that “difficult times are not unique to us in our time. or at our place. Hard times will come, as they surely have, just as my class was graduating and preparing to enter our new careers. And when difficult times come, for a person, a country or the world, we are among those who have chosen to help. The fact is that medicine is a call to help people through extraordinary and difficult times. »
Kasravi pointed to a silver lining from the delayed ceremony: “Most of the time, graduation speeches can only offer a projection. They look towards an optimistic but ultimately unknown future. In the case of my class, it has now been two years since we started our careers,” adding “I can truly attest to the diversity and success of the clinicians we have become.”
Echoing Illuzzi’s reference to a program goal, Kasravi said, “Thanks to Yale’s decision to implement this program, our class now consists of a critical access family physician in rural Nebraska , from a critical access emergency department in rural Montana, from a primary care FQHC PA in Phoenix, Arizona, and a clinical lipid specialist in Boise, Idaho, just to give a very small sampling. We practice from Hawaii to Connecticut, in primary care, emergency care, mental health, infectious disease, toxicology, and virtually every surgical subspecialty. We serve low income people, refugees, unaccompanied minors, people with cancer, those in need of a transplant. After referring to her own work with Afghan refugees in the Sacramento area and the farming population of California’s Central Valley, she said, “If Yale’s intention was to fill the gaps in health care , I would say it was successful.
Twenty-four students from three classes, plus Associate Program Director Jacqui Comshaw, MPA; Adjunct Assistant Professor Stephanie Neary, MPA, MMS, PA-C; Clinical Site Coordinator Mary Ruggeri MMSc ’20, MEd, PA-C; and Adjunct Assistant Professor Mary Showstark, MPAS, PA-C were inducted into the National Pi Alpha Honor Society.