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Physician Associate Class of 2022 Celebrated at Commencement Ceremony

December 12, 2022
by Abigail Roth

In January 1973, the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) Physician Associate (PA) Program graduated its first class of five students. Almost 50 years later, on December 5, 2022, 36 members of the PA Class of 2022 received their diplomas at a Commencement ceremony in Yale’s Woolsey Hall. Family and friends joined, both in person and remotely, to celebrate the graduates of the 28-month program.

“I am grateful to all our graduates for deciding to become PAs. PAs play a critical role in our changing health care landscape,” Jessica Illuzzi, MD, MS, deputy dean for education and Harold W. Jockers Professor of Medical Education, said to the graduates. Pointing to the mission of the PA Program, “to educate outstanding clinicians and to foster leaders who will serve their communities and advance quality health care,” she added, “Given the health care challenges facing our country, many stemming from systemic health disparities, we need health care providers who are patient-centered and who have the leadership capabilities needed to address these systemic challenges.” Illuzzi told the graduates that the PA Program has provided them “with outstanding training, both in the classroom and on clinical rotations, which will make you highly effective, compassionate health care providers.”

Commencement speaker Dustyn Williams, MD, co-founder and lead educator at OnlineMedEd, also pointed to the critical role of PAs in our society. “There is no higher calling than those who practice the art of medicine.” Williams noted how medical professionals importantly strive to cure the sick, mend the wounded, and comfort the dying.

Alexandria Garino, PhD, PA-C, associate dean for physician associate and assistant education, who served as director of the PA Program until beginning her current role last month, spoke about how the graduates are ready for the great responsibility of being a PA. “Educators talk about the transformative power of education,” she said, and “that transformation is most obvious in PA education. Students come to us as laypeople and leave as clinicians—all in 28 short months.” She reminded the graduates, “You’ve delivered babies. You’ve assisted in surgery. You’ve sutured and made difficult diagnoses. You’ve comforted and advocated,” adding, “You’ve worked hard and you’ve succeeded.”

Similarly, David Brissette, MMSc, PA-C, interim PA program director, told the graduates, “Having made it through these 28 months, we know you are ready and prepared for whatever lies ahead. Brissette commended the graduates for handling “the challenges and unknowns with grace and professionalism.” Reflecting on the graduates as individuals, he added, “Each of you will bring something very special to the patients you care for.”

In the Student Address, Class of 2022 co-president Betsy Hurtado, MMSc, shared that she recently had reread her PA school application essay, which discussed what she had observed about the PAs she had met and why she wanted to become one. She explained that while she was impressed by their medical knowledge, skill, and training, what drew her to the profession was “the realization that all PAs I had come across had one main thing in common…they all took the time to do the little things. They understood that the best patient care is achieved not by a single great act, diagnosis, or cure, but rather, it is an accumulation of impactful and intentional decisions.”

Hurtado then told her classmates, “I have seen in each of you that same quality that brought me to this profession initially. I have watched you wow everyone around you, by demonstrating that you can do the big things, without neglecting the details in between.” She noted that many of her classmates had started as patient care techs, nursing assistants, medical assistants, or EMTs, adding, “it was there that we initially learned the value of doing small things with great care. Every step of the way, you all have continued to do so.”

Hurtado also praised her classmates for how they treated each other, such as noticing when someone was not themselves and checking in on them, valuing varied experiences, and, rather than competing with each other, “collaborating and then celebrating the victories of others.”

Looking into the future she expressed confidence that they “will find the mystery diagnosis, but also call to update and educate the families, regardless of the number of questions you know they will have. You will complete your rounds and your notes, while also acknowledging the needs of your colleagues. You will master your specialty and take time to teach, lead, mentor, or research. You will be confident in your skills and knowledge when independence is required, but you will always remember that you are part of a team.” Hurtado continued, “I know all of this because I know you. And today, I could not be prouder to be entering this challenging and rewarding profession with all of you by my side.”

The following awards were announced at Commencement.

STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS (Selected by Yale PA Program faculty.)

Dr. John P. Hayslett Award For Overall Academic Excellence

Aubrey Presnell, MMSc

Yale Physician Associate Program Leadership Award

Angela Lemire, MMSc
Zachary Perez, MMSc

ADDITIONAL AWARDS (Selected by the PA Class of 2022.)

Outstanding Didactic Course Award

For dedication and excellence in the classroom

Matthew Grant, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine (Infectious Diseases)

Outstanding Preceptor Award

For dedication and excellence in clinical education

Jara Chen, PA-C

Outstanding Clinical Site Award

Clinical rotation site that provides exemplary clinical teaching

YNHH Inpatient Pediatrics

Jack Cole Society Award

For significant contributions in support of the PA profession

Angela Lemire, Class of 2022

Class of 2022 Award

For support and dedication to the Yale PA Program and the Class of 2022

Courtney Fankhanel, MMSc, PA-C

Assistant Professor of the PA Program

Submitted by Abigail Roth on December 13, 2022