First White Coat Ceremony recognizes AU’s physician assistant students

Published on Sep. 23, 2022

ASHLAND, Ohio – A new tradition at Ashland University took root at the start of the fall semester. The inaugural White Coat Ceremony was held, recognizing the transition from classroom to clinical education for the first cohort of students in AU’s Master of Science Physician Assistant Studies program.

This “rite of passage to the patient world,” as described by Melissa Irwin, program director of the physician assistant program, marked the completion of the requirements of the didactic year for 21 AU students. They studied clinical medicine, patient assessment, clinic skills, pharmacology and therapeutics and physician assistant practices and professionalism to ready themselves for the clinical year.

Having been awarded official white coats, complete with an AU PA patch designed by student Rachael Kean, each member of the group is now acquiring invaluable experience, at the patient’s bedside at various facilities throughout Ohio. “They are involved in evaluation and management of patients in our community under the guidance of their clinical preceptors,” said Irwin.

The clinical year consists of a series of four-week rotations, as well as two additional courses. Irwin noted the students are placed in a wide variety of settings, including family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, women’s health, pediatrics, behavioral medicine and general surgery, and elective disciplines guided by the PA students’ clinical interests.

The ceremony underscored the personal touch that differentiates AU’s physician assistant program. Every student took an oath to abide by a set of guiding values that steer the program: integrity, caring, accountability, respect and excellence, or ICARE. “We intentionally emphasize a commitment to keep health care human and to never lose importance of that focus in the work that we do,” said Carrie Keib, dean of the Dwight Schar College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

The idea of adding an M.S. in physician studies to CONHS’s offerings, which also includes programs in dietetics, exercise science and nursing was conceived four years ago. Keib, Irwin and many others have worked tirelessly to quickly get it up and running, which included recruiting the first wave of students from Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and even Arizona and Georgia.

From the perspective of Carlos Campo, president of AU, it was an easy decision to fast track because “the need is so great and the Schars stepped in and said we wanted to help.” He added, “As we continue to talk about this program … we didn’t talk to a single health care partner in this region who didn’t … (say) ‘How soon can you start?’ and ‘When can we get folks out into the field?’”

The need for more and more physician assistants in the health care field, paired with AU’s outstanding faculty, curriculum and experiential learning, points to the program becoming a major success. This is what the Schars were hoping for when they chose to support the program.

“When Martha and I discussed this philanthropic goal, we agreed that our primary goal is to invest in the opportunities, which are transformational, that have transformational impact,” remarked Dwight Schar ’64 to those attending the White Coat Ceremony. “We know firsthand how talented physician assistants impact the lives of countless families and the community throughout the country. As we gather for today’s recognition of your achievement, we celebrate the power of transformational health and we are confident that each of you will bring the highest standard care to your future patients.”

As the momentum continues to build—30 students are enrolled in the second cohort—many more AU white coats will be conferred to mark a milestone, then worn with pride at health clinics throughout the country.

Campo reflected on the coats being much more than a symbol. “You take on the attributes of the coat you’re wearing. (They) raise you to a new level of professionalism. It represents where you are and where you are headed,” he said. “It’s not just any white coat, it has an AU emblem. Our history, our values carry forth with your compassion and care.”