“I’m so happy to be together this time.” James Van Rhee, MS, PA-C, program director of the online physician assistant (PA) program at Yale School of Medicine (YSM), said in his opening remarks at the white coat ceremony of March 18 for the 80 members of the online PA class of 2024. This was the first white coat ceremony the program has been able to hold in person on the Yale campus since March 2019, due to restrictions to COVID-19.
The ceremony capped the week-long on-campus immersion of first-year PA Online students, following 11 weeks of classes and online classes. The students, who live in 28 states, had to spend their first weekend in New Haven under quarantine, per Yale’s COVID-19 protocols. They then had three full days of hands-on learning, split between the anatomy lab and practicing patient assessment in YSM’s clinical skills suite.
Anatomy Lab and Patient Assessment Experiments
Reflecting on the anatomy lab, freshman Cyntia Andrade Santamaria expressed her gratitude to those who had donated their bodies and their families for helping her and her classmates learn and to understand the human body. “Their sacrifice has enabled many healthcare workers to become better members of the medical community.” She added that the PA online program’s anatomy course, patient assessment training, and problem-based learning all helped her prepare for the experience in the anatomy lab.
“It was so different from what we did online,” freshman Meagan Robbins said, “but I felt ready to put into practice what we learned in class, especially in the patient assessment. It has been great working on skills and getting tips and tricks from our teachers. »
As her classmates had bonded, virtually, since early January, freshman Clair-Djinie Bazar said, “There’s just something about seeing everyone in person and being able to interact with each other. with the others. Yes, we create bonds and connections, but we strengthen those connections in each other’s presence. We all come from different backgrounds, and it was nice to see how we built on each other while practicing skills and in the anatomy lab.
Robbins echoed this theme, describing how “everyone is trying to help each other and learn from each other. For such an intense learning environment, there was no competitive behavior. I feel like everyone is encouraging each other. »
For Andrade Santamaria, it was “an honor” to be on campus with the “talented and diverse” Cohort 2024 community. She noted that PA Online faculty, staff and students come from different cultures, backgrounds and from 28 different states as well as different parts of the world. “It makes us a unique group with many different perspectives.”
Additionally, Andrade Santamaria, who was an eye technician before PA school, explains that during the pandemic, “I found the need to expand my skills to help as much as possible in a world that needed more healers. It was then that I heard about Physician Assistants and decided that it would be the best way to provide care to my community. Listening to the experiences of classmates and sharing yours during the immersion “reassured me that I had chosen the right profession and the right program”.
Students will soon begin clinical experience in early didactics – spending several hours each week until the end of their didactic year engaged in clinical work in or near their home communities, for a total of over 120 hours of patient care. The white coat ceremony was timed to mark this transition to patient care.
White coat ceremony
During the ceremony’s opening address, Associate Professor of Medicine Lisa Sanders, MD, told the audience – which included students, faculty and staff from the Mary S. Harkness Auditorium and approximately 250 families and friends who were watching online – that she was a member of the first YSM MD class to hold a white coat ceremony. She shared her vivid memory of then-YSM Dean Gerard Burrow, MD, telling the class that they would learn so much in medical school that it would feel overwhelming, but only half of what they would learn would be wrong, but no one could tell them which half because they didn’t know yet. Sanders previously viewed medicine as a giant, ever-growing snowball of facts and truths that she planned to master. She said that at this time she began to realize that science and medicine were constantly changing, deleting and updating, with each discovery. While this constant change is frightening, Sanders said it’s also an exciting opportunity to improve the way we care for patients and get closer to success every day.
Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanders shared his gratitude to healthcare professionals who have been on the frontlines for two years, and to those, like the PA Online Class of 2024, who despite all the uncertainties and the risks of the pandemic—or for some because of those risks—decided to become healthcare professionals. “I am impressed, moved and really proud.
Sanders also pointed out how much health care has changed over the past two years and what she hopes will be a big overhaul of medicine, which this class would be a part of. But she stressed that the role of health care providers was not changing, which is to take care of patients.
Both Sanders and Van Rhee pointed out to the students that contrary to how impostor syndrome may make some of them feel, they belong to the Yale School of Medicine. Immersion helped solidify that message. Reflecting on the immersion week, Bazar said: “It was so surreal to be on campus and a great reminder that we are part of this institution and we all belong to some 80 and deserve to be here. ”