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White Coat Wisdom

“It’s all about the patient. When you put on your white coat you become a vessel for healing compassion, and knowledge,” said Elizabeth Prevou, a second-year dual degree physician assistant (PA) and Master of Public Health candidate at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), as she offered advice to the new class of PA students. Remembering the nerves, sweaty palms, and butterflies she experienced on her first day as a PA, Prevou reassured the new class “that it’s all going to be okay.” She also encouraged the new students to listen to their patients, work as a team, and get involved in the PA profession on the state and national level.

Joseph M. Bocchino, Ed.D, M.B.A., senior associate dean for health sciences at SMHS, welcomed students, faculty, staff, friends, and family to the PA Program White Coat Ceremony and Convocation, Sept. 4. “We are very proud of this program and the students who come through it, as well as the mentors, faculty, and staff who support them,” he said.

“We always pick the best and brightest for our future PA professionals,” said Lisa Mustone Alexander, Ed.D. ’03, M.P.H. ’89, PA-C ’79, assistant dean for community-based partnerships, interim chair of the Department of PA Studies, and program director for the PA program at SMHS, as she addressed the 68 students who make up the SMHS PA Class of 2016. “Historically, the white coat ceremony has focused our attention on community outreach and service to the population of individuals living within the confines of the Washington, D.C. metro area.”

Keynote speaker Timi Agar Barwick, executive vice president of the Physician Assistant Education Association, began on a personal note. “Twenty-one years ago, I was here at GW as a patient,” she said. The week before Barwick’s oldest son was born, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. “I remember the outpouring of support and exceptional care I received from GW Hospital’s faculty,” she said. The good news is that Barwick’s tumor was benign and her son is perfectly healthy. “So why am I telling you this?” Barwick asked the SMHS PA Class of 2016. “First, it’s a patient story; and second, it’s my way of saying you are all at a really great institution for next two years.”

Getting people to know who PAs are and what they do is a challenge says Barwick. PAs are the best kept secret in health care. It’s a phrase that Barwick has heard too often from students and health care providers. “The problem is, we don’t want PAs to be a secret,” she said.

She also described the unique relationship PAs have with physicians. “We are educated in the same model; in fact, next to physicians, PAs have completed the most amount of clinical training hours at graduation,” she said. “If we want medical students across the nation to understand what we are about and how we contribute to health care, we have to engage them on the educational level,” she explained.  

Barwick encouraged this SMHS PA Class of 2016 to let the world know what PAs do and the significant role they play in the way health care is delivered. “The single most effective way for people to learn who PAs are is for you to tell them,” she added.

Jacqueline Barnett, DHSc, PA-C, assistant professor of PA Studies at SMHS, presented the Terry Barr Scholarship to second-year PA student Jennifer Tran, who was recognized as a model for her exemplary leadership skills, service, and scholarship within her class.

Explaining the significance of the white coat, Susan LeLacheur, DrPH, PA-C, associate professor of PA Studies at SMHS, told students that wearing this coat means “not that you know everything, but that you will do your best for your patients.”

In closing, the new class of PAs put on their short white coats with the help of second-year PA students, and then recited the physician assistant oath.