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Emily Wilkins is a second-year Physician Assistant Studies student from Rutherfordton, North Carolina who returned to work in neighboring Hendersonville as a paramedic during the COVID-19 pandemic to serve our state.

Emily Wilkins
Emily Wilkins

With student clinical rotations on hold, Wilkins decided her experience as a paramedic prior to PA school would be beneficial to rural communities.

“The virus is just now beginning to spread rapidly here,” Wilkins said. “We still have PPE [personal protective equipment] but are trying to reuse some supplies when it is safe to do so.”

Wilkins said regional hospitals are working together to prepare for when the peak of the virus hits residents; Wilkins explained it has already affected those in residential care.

“I know our local physicians and nurses are trying to keep patients safe and keep them contained to control the spread of the virus,” Wilkins said. “The community seems to be doing well so far.”

Wilkins said as a future PA, it is encouraging to see how the community has come together to help combat the virus.

“Since working as a paramedic again, I feel like I am helping my community in the best way that I can,” Wilkins explained. She said several of her colleagues, including herself, hadn’t seen their families as often as they’d like in order to prevent unnecessary exposure.

Paul Chelminski, the program’s director, said the PA program is fortunate to be training already full-fledged professionals in other essential medical disciplines.

“The fact that professionals like Emily already have abiding commitments to their communities that allow them to be mobilized rapidly during the COVID crisis is inspiring to us all,” Chelminski said.

Following PA school, Wilkins hopes to return to return to her family in Hendersonville and continue to serve in rural medicine. Wilkins believes everyone should have accessible health care no matter where they live. Wilkins’ goal is to provide quality care that rural communities need yet lack. These areas are greatly affected because hospitals are not located nearby.

“No one wants to do rural medicine,” Wilkins said. “It does show me there is a need for me to go there […] to fill that void.”

The division is one of seven housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences in the UNC School of Medicine. Paul Chelminski (’95 MD, ’03 MPH) has served as program director since its inception in 2015.

-Lizzy Laufters, public relations and communications intern