Shortly before 4 p.m. on March 12, Joshua Amano and Joshua Wageman were in the basement of Battell Chapel, facing a mirror, straightening their ties, and adjusting their collars. They were just moments away from the White Coat Ceremony for the first 42 students to enter Yale’s new Physician Assistant Online Program at the School of Medicine. Although they’d met in person for the first time the day before, they already knew each other from the two-hour class sessions held online three times a week since classes began on January 8. Amano is from San José, Calif., and Wageman is from Boise, Idaho.
For Wageman, one of the program’s appeals is that it lets him stay home in Boise, where he has strong ties to a ministry at his church. “We don’t have to uproot,” he said.
That is one of the goals of the 28-month program—to make a Yale PA education accessible to qualified students who may not be able to relocate to New Haven, as well as to help address the need for health professionals in primary care across the country.
After nine weeks of online classes, the students were in New Haven for a week-long immersion, which in addition to the White Coat celebration, included classes in anatomy and physical exam skills. At the ceremony, PA Online program director and associate professor Jim Van Rhee, M.S., P.A.-C, noted a series of “firsts” for the new class.
“We have a lot of firsts,” he said. “First admitted class, first white coat, first graduation, first jobs.”
In his welcoming remarks, Richard Belitsky, M.D., deputy dean for education, commended the students for taking a chance on the new program.
“If you feel like a guinea pig,” Belitsky said, “this is not the right place for you. But if you feel like a pioneer, you are about to start an adventure with us. Thank you for coming to Yale and having this confidence in us.”
In her keynote address, Diane Bruessow, P.A.-C, told the class that as they develop highly specialized skills, they’ll be expected to use them with integrity and compassion. Patients, she said, will tell them things they’ll tell no one else.
“Opportunities for you to make a difference will present themselves to you regularly,” she said. “Be the bridge that gets people to the solution they need.”
Bruessow also suggested that the students may have received inspiration from others in their lives, some of whom perhaps were among the families and friends who traveled to the Yale campus to join in this special occasion.
“Everyone who’s putting on a white coat today has been personally inspired to take on the responsibilities of the practice of medicine,” she said. “I suspect that many of you who are here today are that inspiration.”
Amano said his work at a clinic for the homeless in West Hollywood and in a stroke research program at UCLA led him into medicine.
Jordan Morris said she plans to stay and practice in Hot Springs, S.D., her hometown of 1,200 people near the Pine Ridge Reservation, home to the Oglala Sioux. The area, she said, needs more health care providers.
Her role model was a medic she met during one of her two tours of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Air Force. “I couldn’t wait to get into this world,” she said.