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A Symbol of Patient Commitment

“When you woke up this morning, it was raining very heavily. How many of you lamented that?” asked Joseph Bocchino, Ed.D., M.B.A., senior associate dean for health sciences at GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS). He was addressing the 60 soon-to-be graduates that compose the SMHS Physician Assistant (PA) Class of 2014, who were gathered with family and friends, faculty and staff, for their White Coat Ceremony, May 16. “Think of it this way,” Bocchino continued, “the amount of water that poured out of the sky does not compare to the tears and sweat put forth by our PA students over the past two years.”

The hard work and persistence demonstrated by the class was a theme of the ceremony, which marked the first time the newly minted PAs would don their long white coats — a symbol of their profession’s dedication to patient care.

Student speaker Julia Alexander represented the class by recounting memories that her classmates shared with her of their years in the program, of times challenging and exhilarating, trying and rewarding. “It’s been a great two years, and here we are,” she said. “Looking forward, excited, but also a little scared.” Alexander closed her address by quoting the Code of Maimonides, the 12th century philosopher and physician, who wrote, “When wiser people teach me, let me be humble to learn; for the mind of man is limited, and the art of healing is vast.”

Tolton Society President Alexandra Phillips, was honored with the student leader award for her compassion and altruistic spirit. “As a student in the program, she offered to help classmates in need, was the calm voice to help solve various issues, and was the class liaison to the faculty, helping to promote a good educational experience for all,” said Jacqueline Barnett, D.H.Sc., PA-C, assistant professor of health care sciences.

Following the acceptance of her award, Phillips presented Bryan Walker, M.H.S., assistant professor of health care sciences, with the PA 2014 Golden Apple award for his dedication to the program, noting the significant impact he’s had during the two short years since he joined GW’s faculty.

The guest speaker for the ceremony, Joel Stoia, PA-C, chief physician assistant in the Department of Emergency Medicine and the Carroll Hospital Center in Westminster, Md., next took the stage to recount an ancient Japanese fable, the moral which was to be happy with who you are. “You have an amazing future ahead of you,” he said. “Never give up. Never stop learning. Never stop caring. And always do the right thing for your patient.” Stoia, who previously served as an adjunct professor in SMHS’s PA program, also encouraged the students to remain compassionate. “It’s not just about the making the right diagnosis, but about treating the patient as family.”

After the white coat processional and the recitation of the PA oath, Lisa Alexander, Ed.D. ’03, M.P.H. ’89, PA-C ’79, assistant dean for community-based partnerships, interim chair and director of the PA program at SMHS, closed the ceremony. “I want to take a moment to tell you again how much we share the excitement and anticipation you have as you move forward with your careers,” Alexander said. “You represent the next generation of PAs and, as such, you are entering the profession at a relatively strong time. The benefits you will derive are due to your determination and perseverance. But they are also very much due to the hard work and pioneering spirit of those who have gone before you.” She went on to encourage the class to never take anything for granted about their profession. “Your participation is critical if we are to keep our profession moving forward. Remember, your patients are depending on you. Make us all proud.”