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Physician Assistants Stay on the Front Lines

A Navy officer, MC graduate Ryne Graham is a physician assistant at a clinic in Washington State. He is a native of Clinton.
A Navy officer, MC graduate Ryne Graham is a physician assistant at a clinic in Washington State. He is a native of Clinton.

Physician assistants like Ryne Graham are spending many hours on the front lines at medical facilities as COVID-19 cases soar nationwide.

With coronavirus deaths in the USA claiming more than 284,000 lives as of December 8, Mississippi College’s PA grads are busier than ever as the Christmas holidays near.

One of the very best is Graham, a Clinton native practicing medicine at a U.S. Navy clinic in Everett, Washington. Earlier this year, the MC alumnus was among three PAs treating sailors testing positive for COVID aboard the ship USNS Mercy. The Naval ship was deployed to Los Angeles in late March. The infected sailors were immediately taken off the vessel and placed in three hotels, with each PA leading the corpsman teams. Other sailors on U.S. Navy ships around the world tested positive for the coronavirus. Some sailors died from the disease.

After serving two months in Los Angeles and COVID cases diminished, LTJG Ryne Graham returned to his practice in Washington state.

But now, with coronavirus cases spiking across the USA, MC’s physician assistant grads are in big demand again. There are more than 15 million COVID cases in America. States are increasing restrictions and health protocols to mitigate the spread of the virus.

The COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 has impacted all aspects of world affairs. And Graham says military medicine is no exception. “With leadership and precision, patients will still have access to the care they deserve,” Ryne Graham, 31, said. As an officer and physician assistant, he strives to maintain the highest professional standards during the pandemic.

A 2008 Clinton High alumnus and 2012 University of Mississippi exercise science graduate, Graham returned to Clinton to start his 30-month journey at MC’s physician assistant studies with a desire to help others.

Graham served as a PA in the Magnolia State after his 2017 MC graduation. But he felt the calling to pursue military leadership opportunities. He was commissioned with the U.S. Navy in September 2019.

Mississippi College launched the state’s only physician assistant program in 2011. Many grads are working overtime this year to meet rising patient demands.

“COVID has certainly created new challenges, especially in the emergency department,” says physician assistant Andrew Gould of Mobile, Alabama.

The 2017 MC grad serves as a physician assistant in the emergency department at Mobile Infirmary and Thomas Hospital.

“COVID precautions, while extremely necessary, slow down the flow of the department,” Gould says. “Despite this, we continue to treat patients to the best of our ability.”

He graduated from Auburn University before enrolling at MC’s program at the Baptist Healthplex.

Enrolling more than 90 students, the program led by director Dr. Steve Martin prepares students to work under the supervision of physicians.

A 2014 MC graduate,  graduate Joseph Kotnour, starts a new job on December 14 as a physician assistant at the St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington. “There has been an increase in patients being admitted due to the coronavirus, and so they are really in need of help!”

At the same time, the La Crosse, Wisconsin native, is working at a different emergency department in Tacoma. Earlier this year, Kotnour treated COVID-19 patients at hospitals in Washington state and New Jersey.

Andrew Porter, an MC physician assistant professor, is impressed with the quality of the work of the university’s alumni at medical facilities nationwide. “For most of our graduates, COVID-19 was unknown while they were students. It is our evidence-based approach to medical education that lays the foundation for our graduates to be able to adapt to change.”

The typical physician assistant reports more than 70 patient interactions per week. “With well over 200 graduates, it’s easy to do the math of how much of an impact our graduates are having.”