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40th physician assistant class graduates

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August 09, 2012



Nearly three dozen stu­dents in the two-​​year Physi­cian Assis­tant Pro­gram in the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences grad­u­ated on Wednesday, in a cer­e­mony that under­scored the evolving nature of the field and the impor­tance of com­mit­ting to patient care.

"The world is going to be very dif­ferent," said keynote speaker, Dr. J. Stephen Bohan, the exec­u­tive vice chair and clin­ical director of emer­gency med­i­cine at Brigham and Women's Hos­pital and an assis­tant pro­fessor of med­i­cine at Har­vard Med­ical School. "Between when you applied to this pro­gram to today, a lot has changed."

"Every single day, I'm less and less inter­ested in the let­ters after a person's name," Bohan said. "I'm inter­ested in if they have integrity and hustle."

The director of the Physi­cian Assis­tant Pro­gram, clin­ical pro­fessor Rosann Ippolito, praised this year's 34 grad­u­ates for their com­mit­ment to the broader com­mu­nity. More than 1,000 health care pro­fes­sionals have grad­u­ated from the master's degree pro­gram since its incep­tion in 1971.

"It was a lot of work, but you not only made time for your­selves but you made time to reach out and help others," Ippolito said. "I hope that you con­tinue with that as you enter your pro­fes­sional lives."

PA grad­uate Bianca Belcher intro­duced a slideshow of photos from the pre­vious two years. She assured fac­ulty, family mem­bers and friends who packed the Curry Stu­dent Center Ball­room that she and her peers had plenty of fun to bal­ance out the hard work.

"From seeing each other half-​​naked in those first weeks of clin­ical diag­nosis to giving each other IVs for the first time, we sure did a lot together," Belcher said. "Though we may have made it seem like this was all work and no play in the last 24 months, we did manage to have a lot of fun."

Chris­tine Can­ning, a 1989 grad­uate of the Physi­cian Assis­tant Pro­gram and the first PA hired to work at the Dana-​​Farber Cancer Insti­tute also spoke during thr cer­e­mony, dis­cussing the need to stop data and sta­tis­tics from get­ting in the way of patient needs.

Can­ning, the director of clin­ical trials for Dana Farber's Cancer Vac­cine Center, illus­trated her point by telling the story of her 80-​​year-​​old father. Ear­lier this year he was released from the hos­pital a day after his pace­maker surgery, she said, even though he felt like some­thing wasn't right.

Soon after his release his con­di­tion wors­ened, requiring far more care than he oth­er­wise would have needed. "This was the result of a person looking without seeing, hearing without lis­tening, valuing an algo­rithm over a person," Can­ning said. "No North­eastern PA stu­dent ever would have dis­charged a patient in that con­di­tion. I know it because I've seen it."

The story, how­ever, pro­vided a valu­able lesson for PAs about to enter the field as pro­fes­sionals. "Lose the per­sonal and you lose the person—you lose the patient and you lose your­self," Can­ning said. "You're now part of a proud tra­di­tion here at North­eastern and as a fellow PA, I wel­come you to our com­mu­nity of healers."

The PA grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony also hon­ored Suzanne Green­berg, Bouvé's cur­rent asso­ciate dean for grad­uate edu­ca­tion who estab­lished Northeastern's physi­cian assis­tant pro­gram in 1971 and served as its director until 2006, with the department's Out­standing Ser­vice Award.

"Sue's con­tri­bu­tions are leg­endary," Ippolito said. "Many of them we now take for granted. She spear­headed the 1973 PA prac­tice act, the law that allowed PAs to prac­tice med­i­cine in the Com­mon­wealth of Mass­a­chu­setts. Years later, she was also involved in the pas­sage of pre­scrip­tive prac­tice legislation."

The PA pro­fes­sional has grown in the more than four decades since Green­berg began her career at North­eastern, with many of her stu­dents helping plot its still-​​evolving course.

"It's very rewarding and exciting to see young people come in eager, enthu­si­astic and ener­getic — and yes, often a bit ner­vous — and come out two years later as really mature indi­vid­uals," Green­berg said. "That's the real reward that comes with teaching these stu­dents, some­thing that makes it far more than a job."