PA Students Transition to Clinical Phase

July 23, 2012

ALLIANCE, Ohio — More than 250 people were in attendance on Thursday, July 19 to celebrate and congratulate University of Mount Union students as they transitioned from classroom learning to the clinical phase of their physician assistant studies graduate education during the third annual White Coat Ceremony.

Sharon Luke, associate professor, program director and chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies, told students what a white coat means to her, specifically after a recent trip to the emergency room. Luke shared that as a healthcare professional, she doesn’t often get an opportunity to see things from the patient’s point of view.

“The white coat is a very important symbol that you must wear with pride and honesty,” she said.

For 15 consecutive months, students in the program have been challenged in the classroom to learn from textbooks, instructors and case studies. Now, students will soon begin a year of clinical rotations at hospitals, physicians’ offices and clinics.

Dr. Patricia Draves, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the University of Mount Union, welcomed those in attendance.

“Throughout the course of the past year, I have had the opportunity to observe these students who stand before you this evening, and I know they are a capable, dedicated and compassionate group of future physician assistants,” Draves said. “As we honor out students tonight, we also recognize the continued success of the Physician Assistant Studies Program. We are extremely pleased with its successes, vitality and prestige, and look forward to even more accomplishments.”

Dr. Mark Gersten, medical director and professor for the physician assistant program at Baldwin Wallace University, served as the keynote speaker of the ceremony. Gersten, who has worked in the emergency department at Mercy Medical Center for 21 years, has been involved with the Mount Union program since its inception as a preceptor and lecturer and has served on the curriculum committee and assisted in the interview process for prospective students.

During his address, Gersten discussed the meaning of the white coat for physician assistants.

“It gives you official permission to start taking care of patients,” he said. “It opens doors to what you’re about to start doing. People will look at you as their caregiver. They will want you to take care of them.”

Gersten talked about the success of the Physician Assistant Studies Program at Mount Union, and noted that Mercy Medical Center hired four students from the program in its first two years and encouraged a nurse to go through the program as well.

“I’m always amazed at how much knowledge physician assistant students gain in such a short period of time,” Gersten said.

Gersten shared several tips with students, encouraging them to always do their best, to always look at the big picture and to develop a reputation for kindness. He shared the “favorite uncle” rule, which states that healthcare providers should treat each patient as they would a favorite uncle or close relative.

Following the keynote address, students received their white coat from physician assistant studies faculty members and were greeted by Mount Union President Dr. Richard F. Giese. After receiving their coats, the students took the physician assistant oath, a pledge of professionalism.

The Physician Assistant Studies Program at Mount Union is the University’s first master’s level program in nearly a century. The program, which began in May of 2009, offers a curriculum rich in biomedical and clinical preparatory sciences and develops the medical decision-making and problem-solving skills that may be applied to patient situations encountered in clinical practice. The role of a physician assistant in medical practice is to be a caring, compassionate advocate for the patient and to spend more time with the patient than the physician can in providing patient education. Students within the program will earn a Master of Science degree after successful completion of 27 months of coursework and clinicals. Fore more information on the program, visit

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