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Physician Associate Class of 2014 enters “a life beyond the ordinary”

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2014 - Autumn

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Gathered in Woolsey Hall on a blustery afternoon for their commencement on December 8, the Physician Associate Program’s Class of 2014 listened as Thomas P. Duffy, M.D., professor emeritus, told them that by choosing a career in medicine, they had the opportunity to lead “a life beyond the ordinary.”

“Many of you will be on the front line of health care delivery, attending to the joyous as well as the tragic events in your patients’ lives,” Duffy said, in his Commencement address to the 36 new recipients of the Master of Medical Science degree. “There may be occasions that call for heroic acts.”

Duffy spoke of one such heroic act, relaying correspondence from a colleague describing his experiences treating Ebola patients in Liberia. The physician carefully detailed the condition of his patients, how he strove to ease their suffering, as well as the intricate degree to which he shielded himself from infection with personal protective equipment (PPE), including three layers of gloves and repeated washing in chlorine solution.

“I share this letter with you not only to pay tribute to the heroic actions of a colleague who is a living a life out of the ordinary, but also to shed light on the tightrope that living a life in medicine demands of you and all of us,” Duffy told the graduates. He noted that while his colleague clothed himself in PPE for protection against the deadly virus, “he has no PPE to avoid his awareness of multiple human losses.”

Yet there is a “secular grace,” he said, in bearing witness to, and easing the suffering of others. “It is in the act of giving that is contained the act of receiving. Some have suggested that a brief reflection on this aspect of caring while washing our hands before every patient encounter helps us maintain this gift that resides in our caring for our patients. Every patient we encounter is an opportunity to be graced,” he said.

The role of the physician assistant, or physician associate (PA) as they are known at Yale, has grown in the last half-century since the initiative was founded, and today’s physician associates “are fulfilling the original intent of founders’ prescient plan to create a new kind of practitioner, providing health care services as uniquely qualified peer members of a team,” Duffy said. The role of the PA has become increasingly important in recent years with the rise of patient-centered medical homes, which rely on teams of physicians, nurses, and physician associates to “contribute their individual expertise to the comprehensive care of the patient.”

Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., Ensign Professor of Medicine, echoed this sentiment in his remarks. He asked the graduates to rise to the challenge of delivering compassionate health care alongside physicians and nurses. “The health care team is the future,” Alpern noted, “and the PA will be a key part of that team.”

Students gave awards to faculty members and clinical sites for their contributions to their education. The Outstanding Didactic Course Award went to Jerry Collins, Ph.D., professor emeritus of anesthesiology and director of the pharmacology course. The Clover Fork Clinic, in Evarts, Ky., received the award for the outstanding clinical site, given for exemplary clinical teaching. Victoria Smith, PA-C, of the Bridgeport Hospital Emergency Department, received the Outstanding Preceptor Award. The Jack Cole Society Award, given for contributions in support of the physician associate profession, went to Gerald Kayingo, Ph.D., M.M.Sc. ’07, PA-C, an assistant clinical professor of internal medicine at the University of California, Davis Medical Center. The Class of 2014 Award, given for support and dedication to Yale’s PA program, went to Judith York, director of the Resource Office in Disabilities.

Student awards went to Kelsey R. O’Dell, who received the Dr. John P. Hayslett Award for overall academic excellence; Anna V. Sloman, Eleanor D. Holtz-Eakin, and Devra Schlar, who received honors thesis awards; and Krysta Marie Peterson, who received the leadership award for her commitment to service and community involvement.