MURFREESBORO, Tenn. —Middle Tennessee State University’s first cohort of Physician Assistant Studies students and their families gathered Friday, Aug. 11, to celebrate a milestone with the inaugural “white coat” ceremony that symbolizes the next step in their academic careers.
“This is a huge transition for them,” Marie Patterson, PA program director, told the crowd gathered in the Student Union Ballroom.
Students are trading in their gray scrubs for white coats as they shift from the classroom to clinical rotations over the coming year in preparation for an in-demand profession — with a growth rate of 42% in the Midstate and with one-third of all PA positions in Tennessee located in the Metro Nashville area.
“You are supposed to be here, we wanted you to be here,” Patterson assured the class of 28 students who were chosen from a pool over more than 500 applicants, “and you’ve earned the right to be here.”
Class of 2024 members include Jacqueline Asamoah, Fazeela Baber, Sydney Brooks, Rose Bussey, Minahil Choudhry, Leanna Collier, Benjamin Ezell, Muhamed Faour, Sarah Garren, Jennifer Hartman, Heena Ismaili, Amanda Jack, Lisa Lee, Kristen Mackens, Sarah Marsh, Aiden McGlothan, John Milstead, Joudeline Morales, Macy Murphy, Joy Oguoma, Sohil Patel, Tyler Patton, Daniel Pennington, Liza Samuel, Erin Simms, Christina Tipton, Molly Valentine and Maranda Vecchio.
Finishing this first segment of the program has “been a wild ride” for Virginia native Tyler Patton.
Growing up in Appalachia, Patton saw his mother struggle to keep food on the table and their house heated. But she placed a huge emphasis on education. After earning a bachelor’s from William and Mary, Patton was unsure of which direction to take his career.
“At the time, my father was battling opioid addiction, as were a bunch of people from my small hometown, and that’s what drove me to go the medical route,” said Patton, who plans to return to his rural roots to “serve the people who helped raise me.”
Students spend the first 15 months of the program learning in the classroom, which includes working with human cadavers under supervision — a total of 77 credit hours of a “very hard medical curriculum,” Patterson explained.
“That is an astronomical amount of hours,” Patterson said. “A lot of work has gone into get you where you are.”
Now at the program’s helm, Patterson helped craft a medical program that is unique in the state: it has the lowest tuition, an innovative curriculum and a commitment to diversity and community service.
Rigorous curriculum readies students for real world
Make no mistake, the program is intense for a reason.
“Those of us on stage know what’s coming. We know what you’re about to face,” said Patterson, gesturing to the faculty members seated behind the podium. “It’s no small feat to have someone’s life in your hands and we want you to be ready. We don’t take that lightly.”
In addition to Patterson, faculty members who helped guide students to this first milestone include Dr. Edward “Dunk” Eastham, associate professor and PA program medical director; Dr. Travis Layne, director of didactive education and assistant professor Shannon Michal Colvin, clinical education director and assistant professor; Stephanie McAdams, assistant professor; Dr. William Bradley McCrary, assistant professor; Dr. Jennifer Rayburn, assistant professor; Dr. Susan Wrenn, pharmacologist; Kelsey Purcell; and Josh Davenport.
The next 12 months will be outside the classroom and requires students to go through eight clinical rotations. Seven of those are mandatory and include psychiatry, and surgical and emergency medicine. The eighth is an elective of their choice.
The 27-month program will culminate next August with each student earning a Master of Science in Physician Studies.
Physician assistants are licensed to diagnose and treat illness and disease, prescribe medication, and perform procedures. They work in collaboration with licensed physicians in a variety of settings including hospitals and clinics.
“It’s a very serious and big honor to be able to help other people with their medical problems and that’s why we put so much time and effort into creating, from scratch, the content you all have learned,” Patterson said. “This is a big thing to celebrate.”
One of the attractive aspects of the profession is the ability to practice in a variety of fields within medicine, explained Jacqueline Asamoah, originally from Ghana, West Africa, and a graduate of Tennessee State University.
“In the PA profession, you have lateral mobility, which means you can switch between specialties,” Asamoah said. “If you do emergency medicine for two years, you can change and do surgery, or whatever you want.”
Patton was ecstatic to garner a spot in the inaugural cohort of MTSU’s PA program.
“I can’t say enough good things. They’ve been awesome, especially for a first-year program,” Patton said. “I think they’ve more than prepared us for clinicals.”
To learn more about the Physician Assistant Studies program, visit https://www.mtsu.edu/programs/physician-assistant-studies-ms/.