The Physician Assistant Studies program, housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences, held its third commencement ceremony on December 14, 2019.

Physician Assistant Studies class of 2019
Physician Assistant Studies class of 2019

Paul Chelminski, the program’s director, welcomed and thanked the graduates’ supporters, their families, and the commencement speaker, Karen Hills, longtime faculty and former program director of the Duke University Physician Assistant Program.

“Always be open to discovery,” Chelminski said. “You, as PAs, are going to have to have an openness to discovery every day of your careers.”

Stephen Hooper, the department’s chair and an associate dean in the UNC School of Medicine, said he knows this year’s cohort of graduates will represent the PA program well.

“This is truly an accomplishment you can call your own,” Hooper said. “We look forward to even greater accomplishments you will achieve on this path.”

Hills noted that graduates are joining a profession with a reputation for the highest-quality patient care.

“PAs are role models in all that we do,” Hills said. “We can be the type of leaders and the type of PAs who encourage others.”

Kristain Miller ’19 provided student reflections. Prior to PA school, Miller held a career in radiography. Following graduation, Miller plans to serve as a PA in rural Wilkes County, North Carolina. The class of 2019 includes three veteran alumni.

Miller thanked her classmates and family for support during the two-year program. She also asked students to remember their roots when they pursue their first jobs as PAs.

“As different as we are, we are all leaders. We are all motivated,” Miller said. “You have a servant’s heart.”

In addition to recognizing the class of 2019, faculty and 2019 alumna Brenna McManus received recognition from the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA), by way of inducting them into the Pi Alpha Honor Society, a national physician assistant honor society that honors faculty and students. Students must be within the top 15 percent of their class and have excelled academically, in research, publishing, community/professional service, or leadership activities.

“Physician assistant education occurs in a shorter time window than medical school and is especially intense,” Chelminski said. “It is a wonder, and source of much satisfaction to me and other faculty members, that our students grow so much and so fast. Brenna exemplifies this exceptionally.”

Faculty inductees include Margaret “Meg” Beal, Mary Beth McGanaghan, and Janelle Bludorn. Faculty inductees must be employed be full time, have served in their program for three years, and have fulfilled the criteria for distinguished scholarship. They must also have pursued opportunities for leadership or service to the physician assistant program or to the profession.

Faculty also presented the scholastic award to two alumni: Stephanie Orihood and Rebecca Turner.

James Fiordalisi, an assistant professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Pharmacology, received an award for excellence in education. The award recognized Fiordalisi’s outstanding contributions to the educational mission during the pre-clinical phase of the PA program.

David Wayne Overby, an associate professor of surgery with UNC Health Care, received the preceptor of the year award, given to those who make outstanding contributions to the educational mission of the PA program during the clinical phase of the program.

Paul Chelminski, PhD, MPH, FACP, has directed the PA program since its inception in 2015. Stephen Hooper, PhD, has served as DAHS chair since 2013. Hills, MS, PA-C, is also the chief of educational development for the PAEA. Beal, MMS, PA-C, is an assistant professor. McGranaghan, PhD, is associate program director and the director of pre-clinical education. Bludorn, MS, PA-C, is a clinical assistant professor. Fiordalisi, PhD, and Overby, MD, have served the PA program and its students for multiple years.