Benefits of PA Clinical Rotations

December 08, 2011

Rizwan Ibadat, a University of Mount Union physician assistant studies graduate student, discusses a patient’s case with Dr. Gordon Barry, M.D. at Alliance Community Hospital, during his emergency department clinical rotation.Physician assistant clinical rotations are an exceptional win-win situation for both University of Mount Union students and physicians in the Northeast Ohio area. Once a student successfully completes the traditional biomedical and clinical preparatory coursework in the University’s Physician Assistant (PA) Studies Program, the student completes 10 clinical rotations at area doctors’ offices, hospitals and clinics.
Each clinical rotation lasts for four weeks, and each student engages in the areas of family practice, primary care, internal medicine, pediatrics, surgery, women’s health, psychiatry and emergency medicine. Students also have the opportunity to select two elective rotations in an area of medicine of their choice. Several students look forward to electives in orthopedic surgery, dermatology, endocrinology, radiology, cardiology and pulmonology, just to name a few.

Clinical rotations provide students with the opportunity to put what they have learned in the classroom into practice. Students get to experience firsthand the cases that they have been reading about in textbooks for months and then come up with a way to treat conditions. After 15 months of intense coursework, students reach the point when they are ready to sit down with patients and build professional relationships. The experience is no longer about looking at a picture or reading about symptoms in a book, but rather sitting down with a patient who is anxiously waiting for answers from a knowledgeable, competent and medically-trained individual.    

Two PA graduate students, Olivia Myers and S. Chase Donnelly, understand and appreciate the long-term value of being academically trained and clinically prepared for their profession after graduation.
“I really enjoy the hands-on experience that clinical rotations provide,” said Myers. “There is so much to gain from working with real humans with complex medical needs, rather than learning about diseases as single entities in the traditional classroom.”
Donnelly agrees with Myers about the strong importance of gaining field experience through clinical rotations, but he also enjoys the relationship he has built with physicians at the clinical sites.
“First and foremost, you get to work with a person who is an expert in a particular field. Preceptors (physicians and physician assistants at clinical sites) have a large knowledge base, and you can tap into that knowledge with questions and scenarios,” Donnelly expressed. “It is nice to have someone you can go to if you are unsure about a certain symptom or exam result. They provide a valuable source of knowledge, and they are also a valuable source of recommendations when it comes time to begin searching for a job.”
Myers explained that each preceptor has a different educational background and has varying experiences to bring to the conversation. To her, they are the people who help bring all the information from the didactic phase of the program together, all while challenging her to become a better student, clinician and ultimately, a better person. Each person has his or her own way of approaching each problem, and by working alongside 10 or more different physicians during the clinical phase of the program, the students can refine and learn new skills and knowledge. 
Not only do Mount Union students enjoy their clinical rotation experiences, the preceptors are highly-satisfied and extremely pleased with the well-trained and knowledgeable students who are placed in their offices, hospitals and clinics.
Dr. Mark Gersten, emergency physician at Mercy Medical Center in Canton, OH, is just one of the satisfied preceptors who serves as an educational mentor for Mount Union PA students.
“I have been extremely pleased with the Mount Union PA students that I have worked with as a preceptor. They are extremely well prepared when they hit the emergency department, and they have been a pleasure to work with,” he said. “The students become comfortable managing patients and also performing various procedures such as wound repair and lumbar punctures under the supervision of a physician. The patients seem to enjoy working with the students, and I think many of them take pleasure in being able to help in the education of future healthcare professionals because, at the end of their stay, they are wishing the students good luck and thanking them for their care.”
Dr. Craig O’Dear, an OB/GYN physician at Alliance Obstetrics in Alliance, OH, has been serving as a preceptor for Mount Union’s PA Program since its inception in 2008. He and his colleagues believe that having PA students assist them in the office is a way to keep them sharp and on their toes. Plus, it’s a nice change of pace for the patients.
“Having students in our office allows us to consistently be thinking about all topics from a different angle,” he said. “Students help us, as physicians, by asking us questions, discussing different cases and conversing about various treatment options.”
O’Dear also added that the students are extremely motivated and energetic, which is something the patients truly enjoy. At Alliance Obstetrics, Mount Union PA students benefit the office by examining patients, providing prenatal care, assisting with surgeries and participating in deliveries.
“Clinical rotations in our office give students a balanced view of OB/GYN as a medical field and as potential career route,” added O’Dear. “They are able to see outpatient care, prenatal care and minor procedures in the office as well as the hospital side of deliveries and surgeries.”
In addition to Gersten and O’Dear, Dr. William Eichner also enjoys serving as a mentor for many of the Mount Union students who complete their clinical rotations in his family practice in Alliance, OH. 
“The students get to learn what it’s like to practice family medicine,” said Eichner. “Independently, they each interview and examine patients, assess the patients’ needs and come up with a diagnosis and plan to treat the specific problem at hand. In addition, they draw blood and give injections.”
Eichner allows Mount Union students to dive head first into the practice of family medicine, while he serves as a physician mentor and coaches them on the sidelines. Equipped with support, answers, advice and patience, the students get to consult Eichner on a daily basis to determine if they are on the same page as he is with patient cases.
“It’s quite enjoyable, as the whole experience keeps me on my toes,” said Eichner. “I enjoy teaching and medicine, so it’s a great fit for me. I’m not just standing in front of a classroom giving a lecture; instead I’m having them walk with me from room to room, meeting with patients and discussing the client’s history and next steps. The whole time, I’m learning too. I love it!”
University of Mount Union has a growing need for clinical sites in Northeast Ohio to support the clinical year as the number of students increase within the PA Program. The preceptors offer invaluable assistance to Mount Union’s PA Program and its students. In this profession, students need to examine all medical professions to see which one would fit them best as a career. Clinical rotations do just that, allowing students to see what areas they do or do not want to pursue as a lifetime career.
Mount Union’s PA Program is dedicated to the development of competent, compassionate healthcare providers who are able to work in conjunction with the supervising physician as an integral participant of the medical team. The University offers a curriculum rich in biomedical and clinical preparatory sciences, which allows students to become critical thinkers. The program also helps students develop the medical decision-making and problem-solving skills that may be applied to patient situations encountered in clinical practice.
According to Sharon Luke, who serves as the program director of Mount Union’s Physician Assistant Studies Program as well as associate professor and chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies, there are a wide range of opportunities afforded to PAs in the realm of medicine. PAs are valuable members of today’s healthcare delivery teams, as they work along with physicians to deliver quality care to patients in all areas of medicine. In addition, PAs can work nearly anywhere physicians are found. The current job opportunities for physician assistants are vast, with most state departments of labor indicating a 40.5% increase in job availability between the years 2004-2014. 
Students within the program will earn a Master of Science degree after successful completion of 27 months of coursework and clinical rotations. In August, Mount Union celebrated the graduation of its first class of physician assistant studies students, and virtually all of them have already landed jobs. In fact, Gersten was so impressed with the students who completed their clinical rotations at Mercy Medical Center that he hired two Mount Union graduates after they completed the program.
The members of the inaugural class also took the national PACKRAT exam, which measures students’ knowledge and competency in the field, and were ranked 19th out of 106 schools that also finished their physician assistant education. In addition, the students took the PANCE performance exam, and 18 out of 19 students from the inaugural class passed the exam on the first attempt. With a pass rate of 95%, the group surpassed the national average of 92%. The PA Program has grown from the inaugural class of 19 to 26 students in 2012 and 31 students projected to graduate in 2013.
Although Myers and Donnelly are still unsure of what field of medicine they will pursue after graduation, they are extremely confident that they will be knowledgeable, skilled competitors in the job market. Myers does have an interest in the surgical and dermatology fields while Donnelly would like to explore the pulmonology or cardiology aspects of the profession. As with all medical experiences, they both know their interests may change after completing and experiencing different areas of medicine during their 40-week clinical rotation.
For more information about the University of Mount Union’s PA Program, visit If interested in becoming a preceptor, contact the PA Program at Mount Union directly at (800)992-6682 ext. 8955.
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