On June 30, family and friends gathered in Betts Theater in the Marvin Center to celebrate the arrival of a new class of physician assistant (PA) students to the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS). Karen Wright, PhD, PA-C, assistant dean for student life and academic support of health sciences, PA program director, and interim chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies at SMHS, was the first to welcome the crowd gathered to the Class of 2019 Convocation and White Coat Ceremony.
Keynote speaker, Aaron Henry, PA-C ’10, who currently serves as the medical director assistant for operations at Patient First and as an adjunct instructor in the PA program at SMHS, spoke to the new class about what it takes to be above average in the PA profession — passion, confidence, and humility.
Passion drives one’s ability to push through obstacles to achieve their goals, Henry said. He recalled the very first PAs, Navy corpsmen in the Vietnam War, as examples of courage. “During battle, the corpsmen were not only responsible for treating the injured, but also had to transport those men back to safety,” Henry explained. “Fear is a big motivator; they could have easily run away from the fight. But passion made them look death in the face in order to save the lives of others.”
Confidence, he continued, will come as students develop an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as take advantage of the opportunity to learn from one another.
Finally, when it comes to humility, PAs must “never forget that being a PA means being a servant,” Henry said. He made his point with an example: When he was starting out as a PA, he had a patient who preferred to see an MD, rather than what he referred to as a “fake doctor.” After Henry informed the patient that he was welcome to see an MD, but it could be awhile, the patient reluctantly accepted his care.
“Humility is an above average quality that you must possess as a provider,” Henry added.
Following Henry’s speech, Dustin Burkman and Bailey Limyansky, students from the Class of 2018 and co-presidents of the Tolton Society — the student organization that governs the PA program — encouraged the new class members to get involved in the community and to support causes close to them. They spoke about maintaining physical and mental health during the next two years, and the importance of providing a strong support system for one another.
Wright followed with quick agreement, “The competition stops here. This is a rigorous program and you are sitting next to each other day in and day out. You are all each other’s support system and you must be kind to each other. We are a family.”
Following Wright, Susan LeLacheur, DrPH, PA-C, associate professor of physician assistant studies at SMHS, highlighted the importance of the white coat. “Some of you might think it’s just a piece of cloth,” she said. “Well, it is. It’s exactly a piece of cloth.
We put them on to see patients. [To our patients,] it says that we are above average. We have a mastery.”
LeLacheur then invited the students to stand as members of the Class of 2018 wrapped the Class of 2019 in their new white coats.
Nicole Mortier, PA-C, MHS, assistant professor of physician assistant studies at SMHS, then led students and faculty in reciting the physician assistant student pledge.
Wright closed the ceremony with a brief message to the Class of 2019: “Remain focused and vigilant. We want you to be successful. Keep your eye on the goal and know the faculty are here to support all of your endeavors.”