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The Physician Assistant Studies program, housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences (DAHS), held its fourth commencement ceremony on November 25, 2020. The thirty-minute ceremony, held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighted its graduates’ resilience and grit.

Paul Chelminski, the program’s director, said he is immensely proud of the class of 2020, which persevered despite the onset of the pandemic in March.

“Perseverance is the most underrated human virtue,” Chelminski said. “To relate it to the Thanksgiving holiday, it is the unglamorous monotony of basting the turkey and preparing the food knowing, and having faith, that redemption and fulfillment are waiting for you at the end of the process. It is the long hours spent on the road rolling toward your destination—often uninspiring but still requiring care and attention.”

Kristen Brooks provided remarks from the class of 2020 and highlighted the many sacrifices and triumphs of her peers.

“The only constant in medicine is change,” Brooks said. “We are always on the verge of the next breakthrough.”

Brooks said she was grateful to complete the journey of PA school alongside her peers and colleagues.

“Our class has persevered through trying times,” Brooks said. “We remained resilient. […] It is up to us how we choose to use our minds, our hands, and our hearts.”

Stephen Hooper, the DAHS associate dean and chair, said the class of 2020 will soon become a critical part of the health care workforce.

“You will immediately go forward to make your own impact on the field by your knowledge, skills, interprofessional perspective, and, of course, your clinical service.”

Hooper said the class of 2020 had contributed approximately half a million dollars in clinical care during their clinical experiences.

“Your professional journey is just beginning,” Hooper said. “I know you’ve been well prepared.”

Meg Beal presented the following honors and awards to preceptors and to the class of 2020:

Scholastic Achievement Award

  • Alison Baron-Johnson (’20 MHS)
  • Madison Hanna (’20 MHS)
  • Joseph McCracken (’20 MHS)
  • Jessica Gage Thomas (’20 MHS)
  • Courtney Watlington (’20 MHS)

Making a Difference

  • Jessica Gage Thomas (’20 MHS)

Hanna was also inducted into the Pi Alpha, the national physician assistant honor society.

Dorey Glenn a pediatric nephrologist, received the Didactic Instructor of the Year award. The class named Benjamin Linthicum as preceptor of the year.

During the ceremony, attendees held a moment of silence for Heather Prince, who taught in the PA program. A named scholarship, the Heather Prince Physician Assistant Program Excellence in Work and Life Award, has been established in her memory.

Chelminski asked the class of 2020 to remain positive in order to optimize wisdom.

“As you make your way into the world as superbly trained PAs ready for the trust of something as precious as another human being’s health,” Chelminski said. “Remember to feed your positivity; feed the good. Thank you for the privilege of allowing us to educate you for the past two years.”

Paul Chelminski, (’95 MD, ’03 MPH) has directed the PA program since its inception in 2015. Stephen Hooper, PhD, has served as DAHS chair since 2013. Meg Beal, MMS, PA-C, is also the director of the pre-clinical year. Benjamin Linthicum, DNP, NP-C, CEN, and Dorey Glenn, MD, MPH, are both employed at the UNC School of Medicine. The DAHS is housed in the UNC School of Medicine.