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Physician Assistant Program is Pathway to Leadership

KeiserClinPicAs a beginning undergraduate student in psychology, Tracy Keizer (MPA 2007) knew she wanted to enter the field of medicine, but she was unaware of the Physician Assistant (PA) programs emerging in the U.S. until a classmate started talking about applying to some of them. Those conversations eventually led Keizer not only to Augsburg for her master’s in Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) degree, but to a fulfilling career and a variety of opportunities as a leader in the field and a strong advocate in the public, legislative arena as well.

Currently a PA in the inpatient psychiatric intensive care unit at Regions Hospital in downtown St. Paul, Keizer says she finds every day both challenging and gratifying. She feels privileged to walk alongside patients while they go through periods of crisis and stabilization, and she continues to be impressed with the resilience of patients who face the chronic struggle of mental illness. She is appreciative of the interdisciplinary team-based approach in PA work, which in her case brings together psychiatrists, nursing staff, social workers, pharmacists, and occupational therapists.

Augsburg’s PA program, the first in Minnesota, admitted its first class in 1995. It is a 31-month, full-time program that includes academic and clinical education. The PA concept, set in motion in the mid-1960s in response to a shortage of primary care physicians, was pioneered in 1965 at Duke University Medical Center with a class comprised of former military corpsmen. Now, state law defines the PA’s scope of practice, and the supervising physician helps determine the PA’s role. Keizer says that, as health care costs rise and PAs continue to work efficiently as members of the healthcare team, the PA’s role will continue to expand. She has enjoyed forging a path for more PAs to enter and thrive in the mental health field, and strives to fight the stigma that mental illness poses and break down the barriers of access to needed care.

In addition to her duties at Regions, Keizer teaches PA students at Augsburg—as guest lecturer during their didactic phase, and as preceptor during their clinical phases. She is proud of how well prepared today’s Augsburg PA students are for their clinical rotations, and with their consistently superior pharmacology and diagnostic skills in this highly competitive field. As she recalls the rigorous coursework of her own PA student days, she is grateful for such a high-quality education—for impressive academic and clinical advisors, wise and generous help from advisor Dawn Ludwig, and an anatomy class with Tim Shaw that she loved so much that she volunteered to return the following year as the teacher assistant in the lab, where she enjoyed the unique privilege and humbling experience of working with human cadavers.

KeizerFamilyPicKeizer has emerged as a leader in the PA profession in Minnesota, and this spring she testified at the State Capitol on a bill to increase access to outpatient mental health services. She developed and serves as director of a PA post-graduate fellowship in psychiatry at Regions. A past president of the Minnesota Academy of Physician Assistants, she was honored in March with the MAPA 2014 Past President’s Award.

Keizer, a Minnesota native, lives in St. Paul with her husband Robb and their two children. In addition to the joy of competing in local triathlons this summer, she looks forward to spending time hiking, camping, and traveling with her family.

–by Cheryl Crockett ’89