“It’s a great time to be a physician associate,” said Robert S. Galvin, M.D., in a Commencement address given in December to 35 new graduates of Yale’s Physician Associate Program.

Galvin, the executive director of health services and chief medical officer of General Electric, told the graduating class that their profession is “close to recession-proof” because their skills are in such demand. Physician associates, he said, can help solve several of the biggest problems in health care, such as the shortage of physicians, the expanding need for health care, and rising costs. All of these issues will be intensified, he added, once Congress passes a health care reform bill that could bring 30 million currently uninsured people into the health care system.

Galvin advised the graduates to become lifelong learners, because the ongoing explosion in medical knowledge constantly renders old information obsolete. He also urged them to treat their patients with kindness.

Three students were given special honors: Dominique Caruso received the Dean’s Academic Award for excellence in the classroom; Lauren Swisher received the Dean’s Clinical Award for distinction in the clinical portion of the program; and Megan Dieterich won the Dean’s Humanitarian Award for volunteer work at the HAVEN free clinic.

The students also gave three awards of their own: to Rex L. Mahnensmith, M.D., professor of medicine, for excellence as a teacher; to the Clover Fork Clinic in Evarts, Ky., for providing exemplary clinical teaching; and to Rita Rienzo, PA-C, M.M.Sc., assistant professor in the Physicians Associates Program, who accepted the Jack Cole Society Award for her support of students and the profession.

Robert J. Alpern, M.D., dean of the Yale School of Medicine and Ensign Professor of Medicine, congratulated the graduates and handed out the diplomas. And lastly, as a sonorous recessional was played on the Woolsey Hall pipe organ, 35 new physician associates marched down the aisle past beaming families and friends.