With the afternoon sunlight streaming into Woolsey Hall’s large windows on December 11, 2017, the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) graduated its 44th class from its Physician Associate (PA) Program, the third oldest PA program in the United States. Family, friends, and YSM leadership, professors, and staff celebrated the 39 students comprising the Class of 2017, who have spent the last 28 months completing a rigorous curriculum consisting of 12 months of didactic training, 16 months of clinical work, and a thesis project.
Assistant Professor and PA Program Director Alexandria Garino, PhD, PA-C, welcomed the audience and congratulated the graduates for their professional growth through hard work and perseverance. “People talk about the transformative power of education. That transformation is most obvious in PA education. Students come to us as laypeople and leave as clinicians - all in 28 short months. That’s remarkable. It takes enormous work, dedication, perseverance, and belief in oneself to make that happen. Class of 2017, you should be proud of the work you’ve done. You’ve delivered babies. You’ve assisted in surgery. You’ve sutured, and made difficult diagnoses. You’ve comforted, and advocated. You’ve worked hard, you’ve studied long, and you’ve succeeded. You came as a novice and you leave as a colleague. Well done and congratulations.”
Commencement Speaker Dr. John Elefteriades, William W.L. Glenn Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Director, Aortic Institute at Yale New Haven Hospital, drew laughter from the audience when he began his remarks by noting that while a student at Yale College in 1968, he had attended a Jimi Hendrix concert in Woolsey Hall, and that Jimi Hendrix had stood where he was now standing.
After remarking that Yale had filled the prospective graduates’ medical bags with knowledge and skills, Dr. Elefteriades said that he had two additional pieces of advice to add: (1) fortune favors the prepared and (2) let your patients teach you. He shared stories from his own experience to illuminate these points, for example explaining that listening to a patient tell him that three generations of her family had seen him with medical problems led him to discover that aortic dissection runs in families, vital information that he then could share broadly, changing the practice of medicine by enabling doctors to identify patients at risk and keep them safe.
Before conferring degrees to the soon-to-be graduates, YSM Dean, Dr. Robert Alpern, stated that he wanted to congratulate the class and to challenge them. He said they have been educated in a great program and since PAs are now a key part of health care delivery in the United States, they will be highly sought after. However, he contended that with their success comes responsibility, and they must now help people obtain and maintain their health, strive to be among the best, and be leaders in health care. He predicted that 20 years from now health care will not be what it is today and the Yale PA alumni can help lead the changes. Finally, he reminded the students that while their PA roles will be their jobs, medicine will never just be a job for the people the PAs will be taking care of.
A highlight of the diploma-granting part of the ceremony was when Editha Setiawan carried her son, born during the PA Program and clad in a small cap and gown, onto the stage with her.
After celebrating all the graduates, PA Program faculty and classmates applauded the winners of the student awards selected by the Yale PA faculty. The Dr. John P. Hayslett Award for Overall Academic Excellence, conferred on the student who achieved academic excellence through the curriculum, embraced extracurricular activities, and performed with grace, went to Laura Mark. Kristin Dalphon and Stephanie Baluka each received the Yale Physician Associate Program Leadership Award, which recognizes students who went beyond the academic requirements to motivate and inspire others.
Caroline Argyros’s Student Address thanked the PA Program faculty and staff, “we genuinely could not have done this without you,” and the graduates’ families for their critical support, noting that as with difficult medical situations, it is hard to get through anything challenging without a support system.
The students then presented the following awards:
Outstanding Didactic Course Award, for dedication and excellence in the classroom: Matthew Grant, MD, Microbiology, Assistant Professor of Medicine (infectious diseases); Director, Yale Health Travel Medicine
Outstanding Clinical Site Award, for a clinical rotation site that provides exemplary clinical teaching: Hospitalist Service at Yale New Haven Hospital
Outstanding Preceptor Award, for dedication and excellence on rotations: Thomas Brady, PA-C, MS, Yale PA Class of ’91, Specialty Services, Yale Health
Jack Cole Society Award, for significant contributions in support of the Physician Associate profession: Bonnie DeKoeyer, AA, PA Program, Research and Team Support
Class of 2017 Award, for support and dedication to the Yale PA Program and the Class of 2017: William Stewart, PhD, Associate Professor, Surgery (gross anatomy)
After the class recited the PA Professional Oath, David Brissette, MMSc, PA-C, Assistant Professor and Associate PA Program Director, left the students with ten challenging questions for them to think about going forward. These included “Will you speak up when you need to, even when it may not be easy?,” “What humanistic skills will you use to build and nurture relationships with patients, families and your interprofessional colleagues?,” and “Lastly, will you take care of yourself so that you can care for others to the best of your ability?”