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Future Physician Assistants at Mississippi College Celebrate Special Week


Mississippi College physician assistant graduate students (the Class of 2018) gathered at the Baptist Healthplex lobby. National PA Week runs from October 6-12. The Healthplex serves as the headquarters of the MC PA program.

Physician assistants across the USA earn a median salary of $105,000, new surveys show.

But future PA professionals in graduate school at Mississippi College insist their service isn’t really about the money.

Leslie Davis, 27, remained passionate about her job as a microbiology researcher at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.  But she felt led to switch career plans and enroll in Mississippi’s first PA program on the Clinton campus.

“I knew I ultimately wanted to practice medicine and serve my state by caring for its special patient population,” says Davis, a native of Southaven.

Enrolling in the two-and one-half-year program at the Baptist Healthplex blessed the bright Mississippian since day one. “As a PA student, I practice medicine as part of a team. I spend time in collaboration with other healthcare professionals. We establish diagnoses, order tests, perform procedures and select appropriate treatment,” Davis says.

“I’ve found a career that allows me to utilize my gentleness while challenging me to be bold for the sake of another. I love my patients,” added the Mississippi State University graduate. “It’s a blessing to be with them.”

Outstanding students like Leslie Davis join thousands of professionals across the USA celebrating National Physician Assistants Week. From October 6-12, the special week recognizes the profession and its many contributions to healthcare. The event began in October 1987 to mark the 20th anniversary of the first graduating class of physician assistants at Duke University.

Whether they find positions helping fight America’s Opiod Crisis or serve healthcare needs of poor families in rural America, physician assistants are in big demand. There are more than 37,000 PA jobs to be filled at the moment, reports say.

Created in 2011, MC’s physician assistant program enrolls nearly 90 students today.

Students like Katie Jenkins, 26, joined PA classmates spending a month in Tanzania working in the maternity ward at Mt. Meru Regional Hospital. The Etta, Mississippi resident has volunteered as well at free clinics in Vicksburg and Jackson. The MC PA program, she said, “tries to put a special focus on underserved areas and populations,” she said. “The school does a great job of encouraging us to give back.”

Professor Rod Cutrer says he’s been fortunate to work with the program from the very beginning. It’s an opportunity to “teach and grow alongside these wonderful young people.”

Dr. Cutrer uses words like “humble” and “teachable” when describing PA students at his alma mater.

“They have excellent judgement and discernment, a prerequisite to the practice of medicine with all its complexities. A strong work ethic and the level of compassion they show to their patients makes them perfect for the profession they’ve been called to,” Dr. Cutrer says. The program’s former medical director is impressed with their professionalism.

PA graduates are eager to take on assignments across the healthcare spectrum.

Reports show nearly 62,000 physician assistants across the USA work at offices of physicians. Over 25,000 others are employed at general medical and surgical hospitals. Mississippi College’s PA grads work under the supervision of physicians at the Southern Heart Center in Hattiesburg, at Vicksburg Medical Associates, and at Central Surgical in Jackson, to name a few.

Another stellar PA student, Matthew Burkhalter, 24, of Flowood, took a different route to the program at the Baptist-affiliated university. He joined the Langford Volunteer Fire Department as a 17-year-old high school student. While there, Matthew attended EMT school then paramedic studies at Hinds Community College. He worked as a paramedic at American Medical Response in Jackson, while completing his bachelor’s degree in health science at UMMC. Then Burkhalter enrolled at Mississippi College.

At MC’s PA program, he’s learning to examine patients, take medical histories, make diagnoses, perform procedures, and prescribe medications. “As a future healthcare provider, this was everything I wanted to be able to do throughout my career,” Burkhalter said.

After graduation, Burkhalter will work in Mississippi, with its rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes among the worst in the nation. More healthcare professionals are needed in the Magnolia State.

Asked about her long-term career plans, Leslie Davis seeks to practice in Mississippi, too. She hopes to work in the field of infectious diseases. “But I’m open to whatever opportunities come my way.”

MC’s physician assistant students stack up quite well up against the nation’s very best. At the 2018 Challenge Bowl in New Orleans, the MC squad finished in 9th place among 96 PA teams (from Yale to Penn State, from Florida to Stanford) taking part in rigorous academic competition.