The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) PA program applauded its best and brightest during its annual awards ceremony and reception, Monday, Oct. 5, the campus kickoff to Physician Assistant (PA) Week — the nationwide celebration honoring the birthday of PA profession founder Eugene A. Stead, M.D., and the 50th anniversary of the first class of PAs beginning their training at Duke University.
Karen Wright, Ph.D., interim chair, program director, and assistant professor of physician assistant studies at SMHS, opened the evening’s festivities with remarks on the value of PAs, as guests, including SMHS alumni, clinical preceptors, friends of the PA program, and PA faculty, staff and students, listened.
“PAs are committed to excellence in patient care and continue to have a significant impact on increasing access to health care,” she said. “Personally, I consider myself PA proud, because I chose a profession that afforded me countless opportunities to share in my patients’ narratives, make a small impact on their lives, and, with each patient encounter, the chance to grow as a human being.”
She added that, in keeping with the event’s theme of excellence in health care, two GW PA alumni would receive awards “for their steadfast commitment to the profession.”
“I was fortunate enough to work with [Michael C. Doll] in my first year as a PA student in cardiothoracic surgery,” said Noelle Landers, PA-C ’15, after taking the podium. “I observed —over him — an open-heart surgery. Mike was there as a first-assist … and looking at me with a giddy, knowing grin as I looked at my first beating heart.”
Doll, MPAS, PA-C ’88, clinical assistant professor of health sciences at SMHS, has been a tireless advocate for the PA profession, Landers told the audience as she added the GW PA Public Service Award to Doll’s many accomplishments. After graduating from GW, Doll completed the Norwalk Hospital/Yale New Haven Hospital Surgical Residency in 1989 and earned a master’s degree and a Certificate of Added Qualification in cardiac surgery. He has served as a leader in the PA community and acted as a preceptor and mentor for PA students.
“I think that nobody deserves this award more,” Landers said. “I’m very glad he’s receiving this tonight.”
Doll, who was unable to attend, provided a video, thanking the GW PA program for its role in his career. “I … was born to be a PA, and my birth occurred at GW,” he said. “I owe all of who I am professionally to GW, and I thank you for that.”
The second award winner, Michael D. Jacobson, MSHS, PA-C ’05, has also made an indelible mark on the next generation of PAs.
“Mr. Jacobson embodies all the qualities of an exceptional mentor: a strong knowledge base, natural teaching abilities, innovative spirit, and a commitment to student education,” Rachel Ernzen, PA ’16, said of her primary care preceptor. “My training with him proved to be the most challenging but rewarding experience I’ve had thus far in the clinical year.”
Ernzen’s experience is exactly what Jacobson, recipient of the 2015 Dr. Jules Cahan Distinguished Teaching Award, strives for as a preceptor. “I had the privilege of training under Dr. Cahan during my clinical rotations at GW,” explained Jacobson, clinical associate professor of health sciences at SMHS, in a recorded statement. “Dr. Cahan ran an extremely tight ship; it was a very small, close-knit program working one-on-one with surgeons.”
The 12-hour shifts, Jacobson said, were grueling, and just when he and his fellow PAs thought it would be time to go home, Cahan would schedule a conference or have the PAs present a case. “It was, hands down, the hardest, most intense, exhausting rotation I’ve ever had, but also absolutely the time where I learned the most,” recalled Jacobson. “I’m forever grateful to Dr. Cahan for that experience, and that’s the kind of experience we’re trying to give our students now.”
Following Jacobson’s remarks, Wright invited John Colletta, Ph.D., to present the final award for the night: the Terrence E. Barr Memorial Scholarship.
“Terry was an extraordinary PA; it just suited his sentiment, his personality, his temperament, his natural gifts,” said Colletta, Barr’s longtime partner. “He was empathetic, altruistic, very generous, and very smart, which you have to be to be a PA.”
Barr, who grew up in the Ozarks of southwest Missouri, joined the Navy in 1966. After returning from Vietnam, he enrolled at the University of Florida, which was offering a degree for a new profession: physician assistant. “Being a PA was more than an act of patience for Terry, or even a career; it was his calling, and he loved it, and he helped a lot of people,” Colletta said.
Colletta established the scholarship in Barr’s memory, to remember “his temperament, his love of learning, and his legacy of kindness. Thank you, PAs, for all that you do.”
The scholarship was awarded to second-year PA student Emily Arcand, president of the James K. Tolton Society. “I just want to say that I think it’s easy to sound impressive or seem impressive when you’re surrounded by such impressive people,” Arcand said. “So, thank you, and I’m so happy to be a part of this group.”
After the award ceremony and reception, PA Week events continued, with a bake sale, an American Red Cross blood drive, and an “Out of the Darkness Walk” for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Fifty percent of the proceeds from the bake sale went to Miriam’s Kitchen, and several first-year PA students volunteered to work at the walk as a service and fundraising project.