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St. John’s Students Make Lifesaving Diagnosis

Kam-Yi Lau and Joshua Alexander
Kam-Yi Lau and Joshua Alexander
Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Citing the comprehensive training they receive at St. John’s University, two students are credited with saving a man’s life on the last day of their five-week rotation at a local hospital.

“Even though the patient had normal blood pressure, good vital signs, and only complained of a sore in his mouth, my education told me to go a step further and perform a thorough physical exam,” said Joshua Alexander, a Queens, NY, native and a senior in the University’s Physician Assistant program within the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

While it would have been acceptable practice to refer the patient to a dentist or an ear, nose, and throat specialist, fortunately, Joshua followed his instincts. He examined the patient’s midabdominal area and felt a large, pulsating mass. He asked his colleague, fellow St. John’s student Kam-Yi Lau, to assist him. She confirmed what Joshua found.

“We quickly alerted our preceptor,”said Kam-Yi, “and a bedside sonogram was performed.”

The students’ preceptor, Todd Freedman, is the Senior Physician Assistant in Flushing Hospital Medical Center’s Department of Emergency Medicine. Under his guidance, the diagnosis of an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) was made. “When this type of aneurysm ruptures, it most often results in death,” said Mr. Freedman. The patient was promptly admitted for lifesaving vascular surgery.

“What is particularly outstanding about Joshua and Kam-Yi’s collaborative work is that the patient looked terrific and even a seasoned doctor would never have guessed the man could be so sick.”
—Todd Freedman

He also stressed that many of the hospital’s surgeons inquired as to how the AAA was detected in a patient who came to the emergency room for a mouth sore. “My answer,” he said, “was that it was discovered by the excellent and talented physician assistant students from St. John's University.”

Educating the Best Medical Professionals

Students in the program go through rigorous training that includes a didactic year as juniors. “They are in the classroom eight hours each day, five days a week—it is intense and it is not for the faint of heart,” said Louise Lee, Ed.D., MHA, PA-C, Associate Professor and Director of the Physician Assistant program in the Department of Clinical Health Professions.

“We serve as mentors so they, too, can succeed in the medical profession,” said Daniel T. Podd, MPAS, PA-C, Associate Professor and Industry Professional and Clinical Coordinator of the Physician Assistant program.

Professor Podd explained that during the didactic year, students learn about medical illnesses and pharmacology across the entire medicine spectrum, including how to investigate a patient’s full medical history and perform physical exams, order and interpret diagnostic tests, and prescribe medications.

“All of these activities prepare students for the real-world experiences they will face as seniors in their clinical year,” Professor Podd said.

The clincial year is made up of 10, five-week rotations in areas of medicine ranging from primary care to pediatrics and from orthopedics to surgery. The field is burgeoning, and as such, the Physician Assistant program will fully transition to a graduate degree in the fall of 2019.

Mr. Freedman noted that Joshua and Kam-Yi are proof of the incomparable didactic training students receive at the University. “The faculty are to be commended,” he said. “In an age when people in the medical profession rely heavily on modern imaging and technological advances, it is rewarding to know the art of the physical exam is not lost, and is being taught to students at St. John’s.”

A Life-Changing Experience

“I feel blessed to have had this experience on my rotation at Flushing,” said Joshua. “To finally see, in practice, the pathological conditions we have spent countless hours learning about in the classroom and at the same time make a difference in a patient's life—for me, that is what makes practicing medicine so gratifying.”

“What happened will stay with me for the rest of my life,” said Kam-Yi, who was born in Hong Kong and came to the United States at the age of 11. Kam-Yi followed in her older brother’s footsteps as he also earned a degree from St. John’s in the Physician Assistant program. “I am grateful to everyone who played a part in saving this patient’s life—and I am extremely grateful for my St. John’s education.”