The first class of University of Lynchburg physician assistant students marked a milestone Thursday when they received the white coats that they will wear as they work with patients this fall.
The College held a White Coat Ceremony to celebrate the group’s successful first semester. Although the summer required rigorous work and intense learning, it proved the students’ mettle. “We have now seen firsthand what we are capable of — how much information we can learn and how hard we are willing to work to become PAs,” said Brooke McNamara, president of the PA student society.
The white coats symbolize a variety of ideas, but they especially serve to help medical professionals stand out as different, said Dr. Rusty Smith, dean of the School of Graduate Health Sciences. “In many ways we are different. We now put other people above ourselves,” he said. “The major focus of the School of Graduate Health Sciences is that first patient you put your hands on. As you put this white coat on, you take on a deep responsibility to care for that person beyond yourself.”
In two weeks, the PA students will begin volunteering at the Free Clinic of Central Virginia in downtown Lynchburg, a clinic where many uninsured and underinsured people in need receive medical treatment. Dr. Dan Johnson, medical director of the PA program, said he believes the students will perform well, and he encouraged them to hold themselves to high standards as they begin working with other medical professionals.
“I really hope that you will look up on this endeavor as a privilege and a way of giving back to our local medical community,” Dr. Johnson said.
Ken Anderson, the past president of the Virginia Academy of Physician Assistants, encouraged the students to step up and lead as well as serve. “Why do we use the term ‘serve’ when we talk about leaders?” he asked. “Do leaders give orders or do leaders take orders? The answer is both.” He said the PA profession needs practitioners who not only advocate for their own profession but also speak up on behalf of the needs of nurses, X-ray technicians, and others who participate in medical care.
Dr. Jeremy Welsh, the director of the PA program and associate dean of the School of Graduate Health Sciences, encouraged the students to remember the reason why they serve. “As a PA, each of you has the responsibility to improve the lives of your patients,” he said. “This may mean you are the only one there for them during suffering or difficult times.”
He expressed hope that the students will have many opportunities to witness patients take their advice and then experience improved health. “It is a constant reminder that you have chosen the right profession,” he said.