Skip to Main Content

YSM PA Online Graduates Celebrated for "Fierce Advocacy"

May 25, 2023
by Abigail Roth

Almost everyone in Woolsey Hall was standing toward the end of the May 12 graduation ceremony for the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) Physician Assistant (PA) Online Program Class of 2023. This was not because the many family, friends, faculty, and staff present were giving the 80 graduates a standing ovation—though the audience’s pride was obvious from the abundant applause and cheers throughout the ceremony. Rather, it was because class president and cohort-elected graduation speaker Amelia Toomey, MMSc, had asked everyone present to stand and remain standing if they heard a statement that applied to someone they know, and then proceeded to read a series of statements, including:

“Please stand if you know someone who experienced provider bias and/or discrimination when attempting to access medical care.”

“And please stand if you struggled to get care because there was not a provider available who spoke your native language.”

“Please stand and remain standing if you know someone who has struggled with obtaining health insurance or affordable medical care.”

Toomey then continued, “For each person who stood today, there is a future PA in this room who will make it their life passion to ensure that someone like the person you knew, will never have to face that same barrier to health care. While we won’t be able to eliminate every barrier our patients encounter, we are committed to making an enormous difference in the lives of our patients and our communities.”

"Fierce advocacy"

She ended her remarks with a challenge for her classmates, whom she earlier had praised for their “fierce advocacy:” “Find the one thing in medicine that makes you feel deeply emotional—whether it be passion, discomfort, distress, rage, or joy. When something you encounter in medicine invokes that strong emotion, let it be a reminder there is work to be done, and I propose we be the ones to take action. Be the advocate and action taker that your patient needs and slowly, there will be fewer people standing.”

After Toomey spoke, PA Online Program Director Elizabeth Roessler, MMSc, PA-C, said, “Amelia, that is one of the best student addresses I’ve ever heard.”

Commencement speaker Mark Perazella, MD, professor of medicine and medical director, Yale PA Online Program and Yale Physician Associate Program, similarly spoke about how the Class of 2023 could have a lasting impact on improving health care. Perazella, who will retire later this year, shared that over the course of his career, “I learned that the best way to help patients was to not only develop my own clinical skills, but to also grow as a teacher and gain experience as a mentor.” He continued, “My hope was that participating in the training of scores of competent and caring health care providers would go a long way in helping to provide the workforce needed to serve our patients. After all, this is our ultimate endgame.”

Clinician, teacher, mentor & sponsor

He then provided the graduates with advice about the roles they can play as clinician, teacher, mentor, and sponsor, differentiating the latter two by explaining, “the simplest definition is as follows: mentors chart the path for the mentee, while sponsors clear the path.” Much of the advice focused on patients. Perazella reminded the graduates to “be diligent and detail-oriented” as clinicians, “but don’t forget to be compassionate. Over time, you will develop into health care providers from whom patients will derive great benefit. They will trust you and in doing so, you will form a strong therapeutic relationship.” He emphasized that teaching includes teaching patients and their families; “As health care providers, we must do all we can to improve health care literacy in our patients.”

Pointing to the PA Online faculty, Perazella said, “this dedicated group of educators and mentors transformed and molded you into skilled health care providers ready to practice clinical medicine with competence and compassion.” If the graduates choose a path in PA education, Perazella continued, they could “become educators and mentors, like your current faculty, and help chart the path for future PAs. Some of you may also become future sponsors and will help clear that path.”

Perazella, Toomey, and Deputy Dean for Education Jessica Illuzzi, MD, MS, each recognized the important role of family and friends—many of whom were present or joined by livestream— in supporting the graduates throughout the 28 months of the PA Online Program. “We simply would not be here today without you,” Toomey said. “It was not just us who accepted the commitment of PA school when we started this path in January of 2021. Your tireless support, love and understanding allowed us to utilize the time, resources and mental space required to succeed on our journey in becoming PAs.”

Illuzzi stated that with the graduation of the fourth class from the PA Online Program, there now are nearly 250 YSM PA Online alumni spread across the country. This “is both exciting and impactful, advancing one of Yale’s goals when it created the PA Online Program—to help address the shortage of primary care providers across the United States.” Illuzzi continued, “Your class comes from 27 states, with 22% of you living in rural areas and 28% in medically-underserved communities. This geographic diversity shows the potential of this program to have a positive impact on our country’s health care needs.”

Submitted by Abigail Roth on May 18, 2023