The outside world, in the form of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and pending changes in delivery of health care, made its present felt at the commencement ceremony for the Physician Associate Program Class of 2013 on December 9.

Keynote speaker Jewel Mullen, M.D., M.P.H. ’96, M.P.A., Commissioner of the Department of Public Health for the state of Connecticut, admonished the 31 graduates in Woolsey Hall “not to forget changes in our health care system.” Many of the values enshrined in the physician associate profession, such as patient engagement, also exist in the ACA, she said. Team-based care is becoming increasingly important as the nation faces a potential physician shortage. “Physician associates can help fill that gap,” she said.

Mullen recalled advice she received from then-President Kingman Brewster during her freshman assembly at Yale 40 years ago. Brewster asked who among the students were pre-med, who were pre-law, and who were pursuing MBAs. As hands shot up he urged the freshmen to “avoid the professional path to prosperity,” which could lead them past other meaningful pursuits. Mullen took that advice to heart. Prior to becoming the health department commissioner, she was director of the Bureau of Community Health and Prevention at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. She was that state’s chronic disease director and medical director of the Baystate Mason Square Neighborhood Health Center. She was also on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer in Young Women. “Feed yourselves and your souls at the same time,” she said. David Brissette, M.M.Sc., PA-C. assistant professor and associate program director, noted that the field of medicine is always changing and gave the graduates three pieces of advice: listen to your patients, have empathy for them and ask questions; and learn their history. “The patient history is more important than the physical exam,” he said.

Providing optimal health care, said Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., Ensign Professor of Medicine, is a team effort and the physician associate is a critical component. The graduates’ mission is to “help make the population healthier,” and he urged them to “strive to be great at it.” To be competent is not enough. “We’ve all seen people that are really smart but not great health care providers.” He told the graduates to be patient and to be empathetic. “It may be a job for you,” he said, “but it’s more than a job for your patient.”

Several awards were conferred during the ceremony. The Class of 2013 gave the Outstanding Didactic Class Award to Jerry Collins, Ph.D., professor of anesthesiology, who directs the program’s pharmacology course. The Outstanding Clinical Preceptor Award went to Vanessa Lehner, PA-C ’08, of the Hartford Family Medical Center. Women’s Healthcare LLC in Trumbull, Conn., received the Outstanding Clinical Site Award. The Outstanding Alumni Award went to Burdeen Camp, PA-C ’75, the only woman in her class. Brisette received the Jack Cole Society Award for contributions in support of the physician associate profession. Shanta Kapadia, M.B.BS., lecturer in surgery (gross anatomy) received the award for Excellence in Teaching.

Two student awards were also conferred. Jennifer Burg received the Dr. John P. Hayslett Award for overall academic excellence. Megan McInnis received the Leadership Award for her commitment to service and community involvement.