During her 20-year career, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Pamela Lucas, PA-C, has served in Bosnia, revamped the medical kit Air Force personnel carry to treat traumatic injuries, and developed plans for natural disasters and humanitarian work. Now the commanding officer for the Air Force Medical Element, she leads more than 200 medical professionals who perform international missions for the U.S. Department of Defense. But even when she’s not directly involved in patient care, her focus is on her patients. In her commencement address in December she urged the Physician Associate Class of 2012 not to underestimate the importance of each such encounter. “Every patient you meet has a family counting on you,” she said.

During one seemingly routine visit, Lucas recalled, a 36-year-old woman appeared to be suffering from seasonal allergies. Although her examination revealed nothing unusual, Lucas felt that something was wrong. She ordered an X-ray and found a mass in the woman’s chest that turned out to be Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Lucas, who received the 2012 American Academy of Physician Assistants Federal Service pa of the Year Award for her service to the profession, urged the 34 members of the class to listen to their patients and look for the unusual.

“The best actions are felt by many but known by few,” she told the class. “Don’t strive to make your presence noticed, only your absence felt.”

Student speaker Thomas T. De Vries, M.P.H., MMSC., PA-C ’12, one of the first two students to receive the dual Masters of Medical Science/M.P.H. degree, he urged his classmates to continue to be lifelong learners. “As we transition from the scholastic to the professional, it’s essential to ask questions,” he said.  “It’s the only way to contribute to the frontier of medicine.”

Several faculty members and students were honored at the ceremony. Chris A. Tormey, M.D., assistant professor of laboratory medicine, received the Outstanding Didactic Course Award for his dedication and excellence in the classroom. The Outstanding Clinical Preceptor Award was given to Thomas A. Morris, PA-C, of the Emergency Department of Yale-New Haven Hospital, for his contribution to clinical training. Gerald Kayingo, Ph.D., MMSC, PA-C ’07, received the Jack Cole Society Award for his support of the physician associate profession.

The student awards went to Scott Pusateri, MMSC, PA-C ’12, for academic excellence and Caroline M. Dudley, MMSC, PA-C ’12, for clinical excellence. Harrison Leo Reed, MMSC, PA-C ’12 received the leadership award, given for the first time this year.