Mercyhurst hosts first guest of Alumni Speaker Series

Marina Boyle, Features Editor

A talk and presentation from Kaleigh Vinesky kicked off this year’s Alumni Speaker Series, hosted collaboratively by the Department of Alumni Relations and the Career Development Center.

Kaleigh Vinesky was the first alumna to return to Mercyhurst for her presentation, which focused on the physician assistant profession. Vinesky graduated from Mercyhurst in 2013 with a degree in Biology and Psychology. She then enrolled in graduate school at Daemen College, Buffalo, where she earned a master’s degree as a physician assistant.

Vinesky’s talk focused on the components of a physician assistant job and the path to such a career. Vinesky graduated from Mercyhurst before a physician assistant program had been implemented here.

She described how she chose Mercyhurst regardless of the exact majors she could find here. “I grew up in Erie, I went to Mercyhurst Prep and I knew that Mercyhurst was the right fit for me,” Vinesky said.

The Department of Physician Assistant Studies at Mercyhurst now runs a 24-month program so students could go straight into this major. Moreover, the department had a 100 percent pass rate in the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam in both 2017 and 2018.

Vinesky took time to explain the definition and role of a physician assistant , explaining that she is a medical assistant who works with and under other doctors in a variety of fields. She is currently working with OB/GYN Associates of Erie. Her role includes taking medical histories, conducting physical exams, developing treatment plans and treating illness.In particular, Vinesky’s role in the practice is focused on prenatal care, breast complaints and birth control. Physician assistants do not do surgery.

Vinesky had extensive knowledge on many of the different specialties that one can go into with a physician assistant degree. She touched on the fact that one would not have to recertify to change specialty, and the ability to have frequent movement in this profession is one of the perks that keeps it exciting.

Other benefits of the profession were cited as being a competitive salary, less time spent in medical school, a better work/life balance than most traditional doctors and high levels of patient interaction within the job. Vinesky has constant hands-on time with patients and works a four day week.

Currently, there are 115,000 physician assistants in the U.S., with this number growing each year. The majority are in New York, Texas, California and Pennsylvania. Physician assistants have a median salary of $100,000 and generally graduate from two- or three-year graduate programs if they do not go straight into an undergraduate physician assistant course.

Vinesky also drew on a report by the U.S. News and World, which stated that the physician assistant profession was ranked number three in a list of the best jobs in 2017.

Vinesky stressed how competitive it can be to get into a graduate physician assistant program and why students need to stand out to be accepted. For Vinesky, Daemen College was her clear first choice, and it accepted only 30 students from a pool of close to 600 applications.In terms of grad school applications, she gave advice relating to involvement, interviews and confidence.
“Find a program that fits you well and set yourself apart in it,” Vinesky said. “Finding the right job involves making connections early and asking questions of staff to decide whether or not you are the right fit for them as an organization.”

Vinesky also discussed how she had been highly involved on campus during her time at Mercyhurst, particularly as a student ambassador. She cited school involvement as something that gave her plenty to talk about in interviews and built her confidence in her abilities.

During her summers, she had shadowed people in the medical profession to help her in choosing this career path. “Volunteer and shadow experience is huge,” Vinesky said. “I feel that shadowing is essential for knowing that you want to be a PA and for conceptualizing your future plans. It also helps to get some experience interviewing because this will be so important when wanting to be accepted into schools.”

Vinesky allowed students to speak with her at the end of her talk and provided her email for students to reach out to her.

Raejonna Pascarella, junior Sports Medicine major, learned much from the talk.
“It was exciting and informative to hear more about the physician assistant profession and have it in mind as a career option. I look forward to hopefully reaching out to Kaleigh soon and getting some more experience in my field,” Pascarella said.