Physician Assistant Program Stresses Diversity and Service

Kam-Yi Lau and Joshua Alexander
February 16, 2021

U.S. News & World Report recently listed the profession of Physician Assistant as number one in its “100 Best Jobs” ranking, and Money magazine listed it on its “Top 10 Jobs in America.” With the career poised to experience a 37 percent increase in job growth over the next decade, St. John’s University’s Master of Science in Physician Assistant degree program, offered by the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, is preparing the next generation of physician assistants with an eye toward serving diverse and disadvantaged communities.

Louise Lee, Ed.D., M.H.A., PA-C, the program’s Director and an Associate Professor/Industry Professional, stressed that the program’s student population reflects the diversity of New York City. “With that comes a great deal of knowledge,” she said. “Our students learn from each other, and they are well equipped to work with a diverse population of patients.” 

Like so many others at St. John’s, the Physician Assistant program was forced to pivot to online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the added challenge of adapting a program with many hands-on attributes to a purely remote setting.

“Transitioning to online instruction offered us a new opportunity,” said Corinne I. Alois, M.P.A.S., PA-C, Assistant Professor/Industry Professional and Chair, Admissions Committee. “It was not easy, and we missed our face-to-face interaction, but our strengths came through as we delivered the same material remotely.”

“The students enjoyed engaging with their professors, as well as other faculty, in activities prior to the pandemic and now during our current virtual events. They are fully engaged in their course work and truly support each other.”

Faculty members created a telemedicine experience for students involved in clinical rotations, posing as patients to be treated over the phone. In order to display their skills, students made videos of themselves practicing on family members; the videos were then posted for evaluation and grading.

“This is probably one of the most challenging educational programs anyone could ever go through,” Dr. Lee said. “It really takes a tremendous amount of time and commitment.” The 84-credit graduate program incorporates two essential components: classroom/laboratory-based learning at the University and clinical training at various practice sites. The first two years integrate medical, behavioral, and social sciences to develop a comprehensive approach to patient care. The third year of the program is dedicated to clinical training.

The University’s Vincentian mission is also deeply integrated into the Physician Assistant program. “Many of our students sign up to participate in service activities to help those in need. They actually say it is what attracted them to the program,” Prof. Alois noted. “We do food drives, toy drives, drives for the veterans, as well as simpler things like wearing a color to bring awareness to a disease or cause, like diabetes or organ donation.”

“The faculty are always available for questions and advice,” graduate student Rita Guglielmo said. “If you have a question, professors respond quickly—often within a few minutes. They offer office hours and welcome students to join private Webex sessions to address any concerns or questions.”

Zachary Levy, also a graduate student, who expects to finish his program next year, agreed that faculty commitment is one of the many benefits of the Physician Assistant program.

“Faculty are always available to talk, answer questions, and do whatever is necessary for the best interest of students. As far as personalized attention, it is unparalleled.”

“Transitioning from in-person instruction to fully remote learning at the beginning of last year was difficult,” Rita added, “but I believe that the University really did a great job adjusting to provide us the same quality education we would have received in person.”