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Augsburg University PA Program: Looking Forward

Jenny Kluznik (MPH, PA-C), assistant professor for the Augsburg Physician Assistant Program, and Kaylie LaPlante, a first year PA student, collaborated on an article featured in this month’s Minnesota Academy of Physician Assistants newsletter, imPAct. Kaylie is the MAPA student representative for the Augsburg PA Program. 

The Augsburg Physician Assistant (PA) Program was established in 1995, and was the first PA program in the state of Minnesota. Since the launch of the program, over 500 PAs have graduated from the program and are providing care for patients in Minnesota and around the world. Building on the strong foundations in the program, we have seen many exciting changes in recent years including a new location, a new curriculum, and new community partnerships. In the fall of 2015, the PA program relocated from the main Augsburg University campus to a space on the Luther Seminary campus in St. Paul. This has offered an opportunity for the PA program to continue to develop and grow community partnerships and classroom/lab spaces for our students. This fall the PA program launched a new curriculum which emphasizes active learning and practical application of medical knowledge to patient cases. The cornerstone of this curriculum is a case-based small group course run throughout the academic phase which integrates material from the other courses. The curriculum also explores concepts and skills in cultural competency, working in various medical settings and with other health professions, and building clinical-decision making skills which are all crucial skills for new graduates.

What has remained constant at Augsburg University PA Program is our commitment and dedication to our students and our mission – which includes a deep dedication to training primary care PAs with a commitment to providing care in underserved areas. We would like to share some stories from our graduates and current students on their experience at the Augsburg PA Program including why they choose this program and how their training at Augsburg has shaped their careers.

Voices of Augsburg PA Program Alumni

Skye Peltier, MPH, PA-C (Class of 2005)

Why did you choose Augsburg?
“I chose the Augsburg PA program because I had heard it was a very strong program and I really wanted to stay in Minnesota to go to school.  At the time it was the only program in MN so I was very excited when I was accepted!”

What are you doing as a PA now?
Since I graduated from Augsburg, I have worked in Hematology.  While this was not my original plan I have found it to be my true passion, I love all things blood related!  I currently hold a joint position at the U of MN and Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of MN Centers for Bleeding and Clotting Disorders. I am also adjunct faculty at the Augsburg PA program.  Every year I coordinate the hematology unit and share my enthusiasm for my area of work.”

How did your training at Augsburg PA Program help prepare you?
During my pediatric rotation, I recall being told I had given a strong oral patient presentation especially when compared to the medical students in our group.  I attributed this to my training at the Augsburg PA Program which highlighted the importance of knowing your patient and communication around patient care.  I felt I had a strong background of knowledge to build upon in my clinical rotations. The rotations then rounded out my clinical knowledge and by graduation, I felt ready to embark on my clinical journey.”  

Garrick Olsen, MPAS, PA-C (Class of 2013)

Why did you choose Augsburg?
Like most PA students, the reason I chose Augsburg was first and foremost that they accepted me! I did have the option to go out of state but chose to give up that seat in favor of Augsburg. There were three reasons I did this. First, Augsburg’s PANCE scores were off the charts. As one of the goals of PA training is to learn the material and pass the boards, these scores were extremely appealing to me. Second, the cost of the education was reasonable. It wasn’t the least expensive out there but it also was far from being the most expensive. In fact, it was less expensive than the public university I was considering attending. Finally, it was local so I wouldn’t have to move away.”

What are you doing as a PA now?
When I started PA school my intention was to practice in a more rural community in Minnesota, but I instead accepted a commission in the US Public Health Service before graduation. The USPHS is a federal uniformed service that focuses on the public health needs of our country. For clinicians this means staffing critical health care positions for underserved populations. My first assignment was at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, MN. This is a federal prison that houses some of the most ill patients in the federal system. Our unit treated patients that were unable to care for themselves in the general population; this was usually because they were post-surgical, long term care, or end of life. People outside of the prison system don’t realize that many of our inmates do die in prison and have the same medical issues and long-term care requirements that those in the community have. I am currently practicing in Key West, Florida, serving alongside the U.S. Coast Guard. I have a shipboard practice and see to the health care needs of migrants rescued at sea, which comes with its own unique set of challenges.”

How did your training at Augsburg PA Program help prepare you?
I credit Augsburg for teaching me to think for myself. They put me in multiple situations where I had to think critically about my situation and formulate a plan – and that situation was rarely one straight out of a textbook. They provided me with challenging rotations in both urban and rural environments, and the preceptors they had lined up for me were top notch. The clinical assignments that I’ve held as a PA since graduation have not been typical jobs, and I am extremely grateful that I received the training that I did at Augsburg.”

The Future of PA Practice: Voices of Current Augsburg PA Students

Clinton Billhorn PA-S (Class of 2018)

The PA model exemplifies the character and quality I would like to foster in my own medical practice. The emphasis on team based, patient-centered care is the driving factor behind my decision to pursue this profession. Augsburg University caught my attention due to their respect for and dedication to their students; they immediately treated us as future colleagues. It is evident that time and effort goes into every aspect of our program, not only preparing us to pass the PANCE but to be respectful and conscientious providers. Augsburg University’s focus on cultural competency is another highlight that makes it a special program. We are trained in a way that challenges us to see situations from other points of view, addressing the complexity of care that comes with treating those who have different experiences, backgrounds, religions, and overall world views than our own. The PA Program at Augsburg University is one that I would proudly choose again.”

Minh Nguyen PA-S (Class of 2019)

I knew the moment I wanted to pursue the career path of a PA that Augsburg University PA Program was the right destination for me. When I was learning about the PA program at Augsburg, I was impressed not only by its excellence in academics but also in its ongoing partnerships with multiple preceptors in the metro area. As a matter of fact, more than one providers whom I consulted with regarding my decision of accepting the offer from Augsburg recommended the program since they have worked with multiple alumni and have been nothing but impressed by their medical knowledge, competence, and professionalism. Accepting the admission offer from Augsburg instead of the other programs where I was also selected was not a quick decision for me, but I believe that what set the program apart for me was the multiple times that the faculty and staff at Augsburg showed an invested interest in me as a student and a person throughout the countless times that we communicated via phone, email, and in person. The quality of its medical education has been apparent in preparing me to be a competent PA, but it is also in its emphasis on ethics and professionalism that the Augsburg PA program molds me and my classmates into excellent future PAs. I do not know into which specialty I will go, but I believe that I will go into the workforce as an emotionally and morally intelligent PA who is knowledgeable and will always put the interest and well-being of his patients first. I am grateful to be a PA student at Augsburg University.”