Physician Assistant master’s program off to great start

Adrian Monty, Contributing Writer

The Physician Assistant Master’s Program, which brings much potential to the medical industry, began at Mercyhurst this past summer.
The 24-month “mini medical school” program, which began with 20 students this summer, covers all of the hot topics of medical school in a fraction of time that it takes to become a specialized doctor.
The students do 12 months in the classroom and 12 months in 5 weeks rotations which are like mini internships to see what areas they prefer.
“Being a physician assistant is not about how many patients you can see, it’s about how many you can help,” PA student Edward DeWald, Mercyhurst graduate said.
Unlike Ph.D doctors who specialize in only one area of medicine, physician assistants have dipped their toes into every field of medicine and are aiming towards the transformation of American healthcare.
In the program, students take 18 credits per semester, as opposed to the normal graduate school amount of nine credit hours. Program director Catherine Gillespie, DHSc, PA-C, referred to the program as an “in depth, rigorous program.”
Similar to other programs at Mercyhurst, the PA program is very student focused. “[We] use student focus groups to see how things are going. So after the semester we had a focus group to see what they liked and didn’t like and saw the need to change,” said Gillespie.”
Because of the location of this program, students are able to use the resources of the area including LECOM, the VA hospital and Mercyhurst North East.
The North East campus has cadavers for students to learn examinations, a simulated mannequin lab with responsive life-like features, as well as their nursing program.
In January, some of the program’s students are taking a medical mission trip to Honduras.
The students will be exposed to diseases not seen in the the states such as typhoid fever and tuberculosis which are more common in that area of the world.
Having the experience of the medical mission trip will give students the opportunity to use what they have learned in the lab and classroom outside of their comfort zones.
The MPASS, Mercyhurst Physician Assistant Student Society, is currently fundraising for the Honduras trip, as well as for other purposes including a food drive.
“The annual Pennsylvania Society of Physician Assistants event will be hosted in Erie this year. We are raising money towards that event as well,” said DeWald, the secretary for the group.
Since the PA program is new to Mercyhurst, the first round of students will be setting the standards for the passing rate for the national exam.
“Our scores will be publically recognized as the first Mercyhurst passing rate for this program,”  said DeWald.