SRU’s inaugural Physician Assistant students to receive white coats in special ceremony


physician's white lab coat and stethescope

April 4, 2017

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Since the late 1800s, the white coat has been a symbol of physicians and medicine. It is a visual reminder of purity, sterility and cleanliness. And for many students, receiving a white coat is a rite of passage in the journey from layman to healthcare professional.

For 52 Slippery Rock University graduate students taking part in the University's April 9 White Coat Ceremony, it will also mark their place in history as the first group from SRU's physician assistant studies program to accomplish the feat. The ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. in the Smith Student Center Ballroom.

"(Receiving our white coats) is a huge accomplishment and that's something I can't overstate," said Jeffrey Kristan, president of the SRU chapter of the Student Association of the American Academy of Physician Assistants. Kristan is from Seven Fields. "We've each put in a lot of hours in terms of academic work this past year and the ceremony represents the culmination of everything we've already achieved and put ourselves through. We've learned a lot about medicine and are now prepared the best that we can to take that next step and move on to a clinical situation over the next year.

"The ceremony also represents our taking a collective step in the direction of becoming a true healthcare professional, and to be able to take the incredible training we've received from our faculty out into the community, and be able to take care of patients.

"It's a transitional period of sorts and one that is very exciting. We should all be proud of what we've done and what's to come.

"Being the inaugural class has created an even more special bond between all of us than we probably expected. It's a unique position and one that will never be repeated. It's exciting to think we can look back years from now and say, 'We were pioneers. We made an impact.''

Scott Massey


The ceremony will include remarks from Scott Massey, associate professor of biology/physician assistant program and program director, Kristan and SRU President Cheryl Norton in addition to a video presentation and a reciting of the Physician Assistant Pledge.

Physician assistants provide health care under the supervision of physicians and surgeons. They examine patients, diagnose injuries and illnesses and provide treatment. SRU's program is a 24-month program that combines academic and clinical instruction to prepare graduates for evidence-based practice, case management and wellness services.

SRU's program is unique in that it is the only one in the U.S. with a special populations focus, according to Massey.

"What that means is that our students will be more prepared to take care of a diverse population and populations that are underserved," Massey said.

SRU's fully enrolled inaugural class is 73 percent female and 37 percent male, with students ranging in age from 22 to the late 50s, with the average age being 25.

Seventeen percent of those in the cohort graduated from SRU, with the remainder coming from across the country, including: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Ohio. Massey said SRU received 500 applications for admission into the program and interviewed 120 candidates. Of those who received an admissions offer, 90 percent accepted.

The program, housed at SRU's Harrisville Building - formerly the Har-Mer Building - includes 13 state-of-the-art labs and equipment that simulates real-time patient care, including an interactive mannequin that produces mock vital signs. Four exam rooms include cameras for professors to monitor student progress.

Presently, health care job opportunities are plentiful throughout the country. In fact, Forbes magazine rates the master's degree in physician assistant studies as the number one master's program in the U.S. for employment opportunities.

SRU's graduate program, Massey said, will also have an impact on undergraduate enrollment, with freshmen entering degree paths leading to enrollment in the physician assistant graduate program.

"In future years as the program achieves success and the reputation continues to improve with excellent outcomes, the demand for this program will only grow exponentially," Massey said.

"The physician assistant program provides another dimension to the already excellent graduate-level health care programs such as the doctor of physical therapy at Slippery Rock University."

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