Campbell graduates first physician assistants

Over the past 28 months, the students of the charter physician assistant class of Campbell University’s College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences have been hard at work learning how to treat patients, participating in community outreach events and practicing key elements of the profession, like casting, on each other. All of that hard work paid off as the 34 members of the PA Class of 2013 walked across the stage at Turner Auditorium in Buies Creek on Saturday.

The master of physician assistant practice degree was launched in August 2011 as the first step towards enhancing Campbell University’s health care education offerings, and the first classes were held in the renovated Carrie Rich Memorial Hall. As the program grew and the university inched closer towards its goal of opening an osteopathic medical school, the PA students and faculty were relocated to the newly opened Leon Levine Hall of Medical Sciences in June 2013.

The first class has set the bar high for classes following in its footsteps.  Students from this class created the Wallace Student Society, a PA student organization dedicated to philanthropy and community service named after Campbell University president, Jerry Wallace.  They established an annual PA golf tournament, which raised over $10,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Eastern North Carolina to date and the Buies Creek Elementary Field Day/Health Fair event that has become an annual spring event. As their final act as students, they created the Physician Assistant Alumni Endowed Scholarship fund as their class gift to the program and university.

Graduation activities began with a white coat ceremony in Butler Chapel on Campbell’s main campus on Friday afternoon. During this ceremony, each student received a long white coat to replace the short white coat they received upon entering Campbell’s PA program. In the culture of medical education and practice, short white coats are worn by students training in the profession. The shorter coat is replaced with a long, white coat upon becoming a practicing professional.

Ronald W. Maddox, vice president for health programs and dean of the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences, brought greetings on behalf of the College.

“As part of the duties in my career, I visit hospitals across the state on a regular basis,” said Maddox. “During those visits, I am consistently complimented on the caliber of student we have at Campbell. I hear things like, ‘the level of professionalism in your students is remarkable’ and ‘we are blown away by how prepared your PA students are when they begin their rotations.’ Thank you for representing us well.”

As part of the ceremony, each student selected a significant person who helped them in their journey to become a physician assistant to coat them.  In the true spirit of Campbell University, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, grandfathers and children placed the coveted long white coat on the shoulders of the Class of 2013.

The long white coat ceremony was followed by commencement exercises on Saturday. Turner Auditorium was filled with supporters of the physician assistant program and inaugural class. As the program began, six students were inducted into the Pi Alpha Honor Society, the Physician Assistant Service Award was awarded to Ashley Nordan and the Excellence in Professionalism Award was awarded to Andrita Stokes.

“Our first students; as with a firstborn child, because they are the first, they will always hold a unique place in our hearts,” said Betty Lynne Johnson, academic coordinator for the program. “And much like the firstborn child on whom you learn how to be a parent; they taught us (the faculty) how to be teachers.”

Johnson presented her father, Campbell University President and commencement speaker, Jerry Wallace with the 2013 Honorary PA Award. The award goes to a person who has extreme dedication and deep personal commitment to the physician assistant profession. Wallace proudly wore the Campbell orange stethoscope that represents the award around his neck while addressing the graduating class.

“I challenge you to be better than most in the way you work with patients and live your lives,” said Wallace. “You have discovered the joy of helping others.  Be active on behalf of your patients and your profession.”

With an unprecedented amount of pressure and expectations on their shoulders, the members of the PA Class of 2013 have earned their place in Campbell University history and have set incredible standards for the classes and programs that follow.

Photo; the PA Class of 2013 give their loved ones a round of applause for their support.