Starting Strong, Emerging Stronger
Celebrating the Class of 2022 Physician Assistant Graduates At the Lewis Katz School of Medicine
On August 5, with friends and family cheering them on, the Class of 2022, the fifth and largest class ever of Physician Assistant Program students at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, received their Master of Medical Science degrees. They had embarked on their educational journey amid a world in crisis a little over two years ago – and have emerged stronger for the experience.
With COVID spreading, “The world shut down around us, and we really weren’t sure how all of this was going to work out, but we stepped up to the plate and faced it head on,” said graduating student and ceremony speaker Kyra Ribansky, MMS.
In the words of Interim Dean Amy Goldberg MD, FACS, “the pandemic upended everything you expected your education to be. For the first-semester, courses intended for in-person attendance were redesigned and conducted virtually.
“We created workarounds, and you flexed and adapted right along with us,” said Dr. Goldberg, who was selected by the Class of 2022 to serve as its distinguished commencement speaker. In addition to her role as Interim Dean, she also serves as the George S. Peters, MD, and Louise C. Peters Chair of Surgery and Temple University Health System’s Surgeon-in-Chief.
In the fall, when students could safely return to in-person learning, “we were so excited to finally meet each other in person,” said Class President Samantha Lam, MMS. “Each time we came to campus we supported and cheered each other on through weekly exams, assignments, skills assessments, OSCES, and finals.”
Like rays of sunshine, the close-knit nature of the class shone brightly at the graduation 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. Twice, the class interrupted the ceremony to sing “Happy Birthday” to the graduate onstage. And Andrea Jimena Hurtado, MMS, brought her young daughter onstage to be hooded in her place—a gesture met with loud applause from the audience.
“We watched over each other through highs and lows,” Ms. Lam said. “Some of us are first generation, the first to become physician assistants in our families and communities. Some of us got the chance to explore a new city, got into new relationships, got engaged, got married, became pet parents. Some of us were far from home, failed an exam, had breakups, car accidents, were missing a loved one, or had loved ones pass away.”
The members of the Class of 2022 were there for each other, despite their forced separation early on. Or perhaps because of it.
“Two years ago, we were advised that the people around us would get us through this program and would essentially become family,” said new graduate and speaker Jessica DePaul, MMS. “That’s exactly what happened. There was never a day that someone was not willing to offer a kind, uplifting word, a laugh, a hug, or even mutual tears. I am grateful for every one of you.
“We went through this program in a time of isolation and uncertainty, but it reminded us that we have each other,” she added. “And it taught us to believe in ourselves.”
During the ceremony, two students were inducted into the Pi Alpha National Physician Assistant Honor Society, Samantha Lam, MMS, and Angelo Marino, MMS, along with Physician Assistant Program Director Christine Mount, MS, PA-C.
In addition, three students were presented with awards. The award for Academic Excellence went to Vincent Feola, MMS; the award for Professional Excellence was presented to Jenna Mylin, MMS; and the award for Excellence in Leadership went to Alexa Burychka, MMS.
The 35 class members who received their degrees on August 5 were selected from more than 2,000 applicants to the Class of 2022. In her speech, Dr. Goldberg spoke to the field’s explosive expansion in recent years.
“Physician assistants are pivotal to the direction that healthcare is taking everywhere: hospitals and specialty centers, private practice, industry, the military, nonprofits, academia, government,” she said. “Maybe you want to teach. Maybe you want to travel the globe on medical missions. You can do it all. Not just because you are a physician assistant but because you are Temple-trained, Temple-tender, and Temple-tough.”
Joshua Evans, MMS, PA-C, President of last year’s class, the Class of 2021, told the new graduates that imposter syndrome – that “annoying” inner voice that casts self-doubt – never goes away. He confided that Dr. Goldberg once told him that she still struggles with it at times.
Which made her advice to the Class of 2022 all the more poignant:
“Suspend judgment, be open to all possibilities, and bring your ‘A’ game to every interaction,” she said. “Trust the process. Trust yourself.”
— Giselle Zayon