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Spirited Graduation Ceremony Epitomizes Close-Knit Physician Assistant Class of 2023

News August 15, 2023

PA Graduates standing in a line and smiling

“I appreciated the size of your cohort,” said Melanie A. Cosby, PhD, the distinguished speaker at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine Physician Assistant Program’s Sixth Annual Graduation Ceremony, held July 28. “It really lent itself to intimacy and community-building.” 

Both of which contributed to an especially spirited ceremony. When each graduate’s name was called during the hooding and degree presentation, a roar went up from their classmates that echoed through Mitten Hall. Families and friends frequently matched their enthusiasm. 

When Caroline Hall, one of the class’s 30 graduates, was called onstage, a man near the back of the audience shouted, “That’s my sister,” eliciting a second loud cheer from her classmates. Hall’s family, which filled most of one row, also sported larger-than-life-size cutouts of her face. 

“We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, and we’ve questioned our sanity more times than once,” said Class President Mia Watson, PA-C. “But through it all, we’ve built a bond that no one else will quite understand.” 

While the bonds between classmates, forged by shared experiences over the last 26 months, may be the strongest, they’re far from the only ones created – or enhanced – by this unique experience. 

Zobaku Acholonu at the podium during PA Graduation Ceremony 2023

“From our professors to amazing faculty, staff and classmates, we have never walked this journey alone,” said Class Vice President Zobaku Acholonu, PA-C.

“And, of course, family and friends here with us, we would not be where we are today without your support emotionally, physically and financially. Thank you, Mom and Dad, in advance for paying for dinner tonight. Don’t worry, you’re on the payback list, right next to Sallie Mae.” 

Dr. Cosby, Assistant Professor for the Katz School Center for Urban Bioethics and Director of Diversity and Inclusion at the school’s Office of Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, encouraged the class to remember the significance of these relationships as the graduates enter the working world. 

“These days, as a society, we are disengaged and disconnected. We move away from being in relationships with one another, even with those in our circles,” she said. “Disengagement is a recipe for dehumanization. And in the context of healthcare, this could be disproportionately problematic and even deadly, particularly for those in marginalized groups who we do not know and see as strangers.”

Lost in all of this, Dr. Cosby said, is the reality that everyone is connected. 

“When we are mindful of this, when we honor this, we are able to return to love,” she said, “and love can trigger empathy.” 

Christine Mount, MS, PA-C, Physician Assistant Program Director, singled out empathy – along with commitment, hard work and tenacity – as qualities the graduates honed during their medical education. Each will be important to shaping their careers, she said, particularly empathy because “the most important impact you will have every day is treating each and every patient like they are your only patient. Take the time.” 

The sentiment was echoed by Dr. Cosby. 

“This is a lifelong journey, and it’s important to show yourself grace and extend the same grace to others,” she said. “Making the world better happens one interaction at a time. Making medicine happens one interaction at a time.” 

Dr. Goldberg shaking a graduate's hand

Amy Goldberg, MD, FACS, the Marjorie Joy Katz Dean of the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, said,

“Understanding and compassion are the building blocks of communication and trust. And communication and trust create bonds between patients and providers. And strong bonds lead to better outcomes. That’s your goal.”

And yet, as straightforward as this formula sounds, it can be difficult, as a healthcare provider, to gauge one’s impact. Noting her own 30-year anniversary as a trauma surgeon at Temple, Dr. Goldberg said, “Even with years of experience under my belt, I still have interactions that surprise, humble and teach me. 

“When you feel bewildered,” she continued, “stay with the process you learned here: Focus intently. Suspend judgment. Stay cool. Be compassionate. Exercise the full powers of your medical knowledge and your human knowledge. And remember that you are not alone.” 

During the ceremony, awards for Academic Excellence, Professional Excellence and Excellence in Leadership were announced. In addition, two students were inducted into Pi Alpha National PA Honor Society, along with Associate Dean of Graduate and MD/PhD Program Dianne R. Soprano, PhD, chosen by the students as an honorary inductee. 

Before leading the physician assistant oath, Samantha Linh Lam, MMS, PA-C, President of the Class of the 2022, shared with the audience that her first year of practice has been “exhilarating, intimidating and rewarding.”  

She also learned to not force the direction of her young career. Now working in pediatric surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a field she said she wasn’t aspiring to enter as a student, Linh Lam, in one final piece of advice, invited the graduates to embark on their careers with open minds and patience. Varied and intense as their education and training was, she assured them, it only scratched the surface. 

A group of smiling graduates