Temple Graduates Largest Class of Physician Assistants Yet
It was a month later than planned and much different from what anyone involved had envisioned, but the main function of the August 28 commencement remained the same: 28 physician assistant students stepped onstage, accepted their degrees, and became the latest graduates of the Lewis Katz School of Medicine (LKSOM).
In doing so, the third cohort of the LKSOM Physician Assistant (PA) Program became the program’s largest graduating class. And perhaps its most resilient.
“To say you were educated in a crucible of change would be an understatement,” said John M. Daly, MD, FACS, Interim Dean and Dean Emeritus of LKSOM. “Who would have thought it possible that your clinical rotations and our entire curriculum could be moved online almost overnight? Or that Zoom would become as critical a tool as our stethoscopes?”
The ceremony, which was livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube, was merely the latest adaptation to the COVID-19 pandemic for the graduates, who sat several seats apart in Temple University Hospital’s Erny Auditorium, along with a handful of faculty members onstage. No family members or friends were present. Masks were worn by everyone throughout the ceremony. And no handshakes or hugs were exchanged.
“COVID-19 may have forced all of us to acknowledge our limitations, but it has also taught us adaptability, resourcefulness, and resilience,” said Dr. Daly, who delivered his address virtually. “These skills will come in handy as you move through your careers.”
Many of the speeches that followed similarly referred to the upheaval caused by the pandemic, but, for the most part, they focused on experiences that spoke to the intensity of the graduates’ training over the last 27 months and looked ahead, toward a future clouded by an even greater degree of uncertainty than it normally is.
For all the technical skills and intricate knowledge that have been learned and honed, the one bit of advice that cropped up in almost speech was relatively uncomplicated: Don’t lose touch with the patient.
New graduate Katherine Martin, who delivered the student welcome, has a unique perspective on provider-patient empathy. Last year, in the middle of an exam, Martin began experiencing severe symptoms of what was later diagnosed as appendicitis. David DeFilippo, DHSc, MPAS, PA-C, Director of Didactic Education for the PA Program and Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at LKSOM, rolled her across the street to the ER at Temple University Hospital.
Several days later, Martin underwent emergency exploratory surgery, which turned up a small bowel obstruction that almost cost her her life.
“I don’t remember much from those feverish hours before my second operation, but I do remember my care team,” Martin said, and she proceeded to recall each person by name.
“The most important impact you can make is to treat each patient as if they’re your only patient,” said Christine Mount, MS, PA-C, Director of the PA Program and Associate Professor of Clinical Surgery at LKSOM. “Listen to their concerns, problems, and their families. Sometimes they’ll have nothing to do with why they’re there that day. But you’ll be surprised how far lending an ear will go toward establishing trust, rapport, and enhancing the provider-patient relationship.”
During the ceremony, several awards and honors were given out. Elizabeth Schneider was presented with the Academic Excellence Award for having the highest cumulative grade point average in the class. Alexandria Bikker was given the Professional Excellence Award for the commitment she displayed to the program and the profession. And Delaney Hallowell received the Excellence in Leadership Award for her service to the cohort and the profession.
In addition, two graduates – Molly Peters and Kierstyn Jeffries – and one faculty member – Bruce Mabine, MD – were inducted into the Pi Alpha national honor society for physician assistants.
Stephanie Benko, MMS, PA-C, President of the PA Program’s Class of 2019, returned to Temple to lead the graduates in the Physician Assistant Oath.
After the ceremony, the new graduates and faculty members slowly filed out of the auditorium as two years’ worth of personal photos flashed on the screen behind the stage and on the livestream. With that, graduation was over, the screen went dark, and the world awaited its newest healthcare professionals.