New PA Class Joins Flourishing Profession Dedicated to Improving Delivery of Health Care

By April Wilkerson 
Writer, OU College of Medicine

Fifty new students in the Physician Associate Program, the Class of 2017, received their first white coats this fall and immediately began their journey toward a profession that is helping to improve accessibility and quality of care for patients.



Class of 2017 PA student Kristin Patzkowsky receives her first white coat from Chris Candler, M.D., left, senior associate dean for academic affairs for the OU College of Medicine, and Steven A. Crawford, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine.

To serve as their guest speaker at the PA White Coat Ceremony, students invited Jason Sanders, M.D., MBA, interim senior vice president and provost of the OU Health Sciences Center. At nearly 50 years old, the OU College of Medicine’s PA program is one of the oldest such programs in continuous operation, Sanders said. PA students are not only joining a program that has been at the forefront of the profession for decades, but is helping to improve health care for the future.

“It’s imperative that you be a part of transforming the delivery of health care,” Sanders said. “The goals are to be more integrated, more accessible, more affordable, more effective. It’s hard to do all of those at once, but that is the history of your profession and the future of it – of helping us achieve those ends.”

Increasing access to care is a hallmark of the PA profession, yet much more work remains, Sanders said. Individually and as members of teams, PAs will be charged with improving the health of individuals, but also the health of entire populations.

PA student Zachary Sanders receives his first white coat. With him are Chris Candler, M.D., left, senior associate dean for academic affairs for the OU College of Medicine, and Steven A. Crawford, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine.


Sanders thanked the students, along with their family and friends, for the hard work they’ve done to arrive at the stage of donning their first white coats. But much of what students learn during their educational journey will become dated; he encouraged them to carry the spark for learning throughout their careers.

 

“The OU Health Sciences Center is an environment where you learn how to provide clinical care with the foundation of scholarship and research,” he said. “You will need that very quickly. A hallmark of your profession is a broad, comprehensive range of services. You’ll need all the tools that are available to you, but those will change quickly. We hope that, through your training, you will learn how to be a lifelong learner in its truest sense – not just an appendage or a weekend seminar – but something that actually informs your practice.

 

PA students have already taken a proactive role in their educational process. For three years, PA students have organized “Great Minds Think Alike,” in which PA students and medical students meet for an evening of learning more about each other’s professions, and to hear from successful PA-physician teams on campus and across Oklahoma.

Jennifer Dunning, a Class of 2016 PA student and chair of this year’s “Great Minds Think Alike” conference, welcomes PA students, medical students and their faculty members to the third annual event.

PAs will work closely with physicians when they begin their careers, yet before “Great Minds Think Alike” began, they had little interaction with each other as students. Ashley Agura, PA-C, an OU PA graduate who now practices in Texas, first organized the event so that PA students and medical students could begin fostering collaborative relationships before they were thrust into patient care together.

“Once we become practicing PAs, we will have supervising physicians, and we need to have trusting and healthy relationships with them,” Agura said during this year’s “Great Minds Think Alike.” “Medical students are our future colleagues, and it will be beneficial for us -- and especially for our patients – if we work well together.”

Patients indeed benefit when they are treated by a good PA-M.D. team. Several such pairs from around Oklahoma talked to students about how the sum of what they offer results in happier, healthier patients. A surgeon, for example, may need to stick to a strict schedule in order to meet the day’s patient load, but the PA may be the one who closes the incision, talks to the family in depth and reviews photos from the procedure. In good PA-M.D. teams, both providers trust each other and communicate well. Having two sets of clinical eyes on a patient also increases the quality of care.

During “Great Minds Think Alike,” PA and medical students take part in exercises designed to educate them about each other’s professions.


In his remarks at the PA White Coat Ceremony, Sanders encouraged students to embrace the collegiality and teamwork of their profession, as well as the leadership opportunities it will offer. Five graduates of the OU PA program have served as president of the American Academy of Physician Associates, and PA graduates have made their mark in all disciplines of medicine.

“We expect all our health care professionals to be leaders in their fields, and you’re following in the footsteps of other leaders,” Sanders said. “Your faculty will join you in your journey of training, and I applaud you for your commitment to it. There will be some long nights, some moments of joy and moments of sadness. But it’s a fulfilling, lasting impact that you will have.”