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The Physician Assistant Studies program, housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences, welcomed the class of 2020 on January 17, 2019, with a white coat ceremony. Among this year’s cohort are seven veterans, who represent service in the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force.

Paul Chelminski, MD, MPH, FACP and division director of the Physician Assistant Studies program, welcomed the class of 2020 with a white coat ceremony.
Paul Chelminski, MD, MPH, FACP and division director of the Physician Assistant Studies program, welcomed the class of 2020 with a white coat ceremony.

“What has impressed me most since meeting them almost two weeks ago is their poise, their willingness to engage in a tough curriculum, and the desire to be challenged. We are pleased that all of these men and women chose the UNC PA program,” said Mary Beth McGranaghan, PhD, PA-C, and associate professor.

Andrew C. Hannapel, MD, and chief medical officer at Chatham Hospital in Siler City, North Carolina, spoke to the incoming class about his six years as a military physician and how that has informed his work with the Department of Family Medicine. Hannapel has served as a clinical preceptor since the PA program’s inception.

“You will be taught by nurses, by respiratory technicians, and by many people in the hospital. But mostly, you will be taught by your patients,” Hannapel said. “It’s very hard, but it’s joyful. It’s a joyful way for me to give back to those who have given to me.”

Hannapel encouraged students to listen to their patients to establish rapport and empathy.

“When I take out my stethoscope, I always think to myself, have I listened closely enough to this patient? Have they had an opportunity to tell me their story? … Have they been heard?”

Paul Chelminski, MD, MPH, FACP and the PA program director, encouraged students to be nimble and resilient as they begin their PA education. “Your scientifically grounded training will be experienced with miracle and wonder,” Chelminski said.

During the white coat ceremony, students received a PA program challenge coin, a tradition rooted in military history which emphasizes teamwork and identity, in addition to receiving their white coats.

“The white coat is a symbol of trust of the healer that has been bestowed on us by society,” Hannapel said. “It’s a symbol of the privilege to serve.”

The program is made possible because of the unprecedented public-private partnerships that have been formed and the generous donations from Blue Cross NC, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, and the Eddie and Jo Allison Smith Family Foundation, and the leadership and support of Mary Susan Fulghum, MD, and her late husband James Fulghum, MD.

Class of 2020 statistics

12 women
Eight men
Average age: 31
17 are North Carolinians
Seven are graduates from the University of North Carolina System
Seven are veterans, including three from the U.S. Army, two from the U.S. Navy, and two from the U.S. Air Force.
Average of 7,500 patient care hours per incoming student, garnered from work as an emergency medical technician, in the special forces, as radiologic technicians, dietitians, certified nursing assistants, registered nurse, and medical technologist, among others.