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2023-2024 PA Fellowship

The Augsburg PA Department is proud to continue our fellowship program for the third year as we help develop a more inclusive working and teaching environment for recent PA graduates from the larger metro graduate programs. We are proud to welcome back one of our most recent graduates for the fall, and a new face from St. Kate’s to join us in the spring. Our fellowship will allow our new faculty to continue developing professional skills while they work towards earning certification and stepping into the professional world. The fellows work alongside faculty to collaborate and learn about the principles of teaching, especially using more inclusive teaching materials that help represent a more diverse patient population. They also work with our students by lecturing, assisting in the skills lab, and facilitating discussion of case studies. Ultimately our fellows will serve as mentors to our students and a bridge between students and faculty. We hope to see them grow, become mentors, preceptors, and future faculty.


Our fall fellow, Alejandra Soto, graduated this past fall in 2023 from the Augsburg University PA program after obtaining a BA from Case Western Reserve University. She has had experience in the past with mentoring and tutoring, as well as with research. She is driven to provide care for marginalized and underserved communities. When reflecting on the diversity of the students, and the patients around her, she noted:Alejandra Soto smiling and wearing a white button up shirt

“I further see the importance of having these necessary conversations as there is still a mis-representation of marginalized groups in healthcare and biases towards patients. Everyone goes through different experiences in life, therefore it is important to be able to celebrate and share our differences to foster an open and welcoming environment to diversity that will ultimately help us become culturally competent, well-rounded individuals and provide better care to our patients.”

Headshot of Sumaya Noor smiling at the camera. She is wearing a white lab coat and dark headscarf.


Coming to Augsburg in the Spring of 2024 is Sumaya Noor. Sumaya Noor is a first generation Somali-American, born and raised in Saint Paul, MN. She is currently a PA student at St. Catherine University, graduating in December 2023. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota in 2020, where she studied Human Physiology and Leadership. In addition to medicine, Sumaya is passionate about education, community service, public health, and DE&I. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, listen to podcasts, reading, and spending time with family and friends. She is very excited to start at Augsburg University as a fellow in January!


We are happy to welcome them both this year as we get into the swing of our cohort’s academic phase!

Health Equity Scholarships 2023

Following up from our last post about scholarships, our PA program is proud to announce the recipients of the Health Equity Scholarship (granted through MDH). This scholarship is aimed at increasing healthcare professionals in less accessible areas, and is awarded to students planning on entering healthcare for rural and underserved areas.

When students train in rural and underserved settings, they are more likely to return upon graduating. Increasing training opportunities in rural and underserved settings for health professionals can ultimately increase access to health care in rural and underserved communities in Minnesota.


gallery of the mdh scholarship winners

When discussing the scholarship and their current and future clinical experiences, they each had the following to highlight about themselves:

Nicholle, after visiting a clinic that works with LGBTQ+ individuals, learned more about individual’s experiences and the barriers that the community faces, notes that “I strive to give each patient the individual attention they deserve and listen to their stories with respect. It is vital to learn about people with different backgrounds in order to be a better provider.”

In rural areas like CHI St. Gabriel’s Health Family Medical Center, Kelsey was able to see the strength of having connections with individual patient and “I believe seeing the patient as a whole person can give value to the quality of care I want to strive for in my career.  Each patient has an intricate unique story that has needs that might be beyond the routine checklist”.

Ron Toledo Cardoso in his clinical rotations, has seen firsthand the effects of the barriers of healthcare, “While I am interested in working with the underserved population, I have a specific interest in the Hispanic population. There is recognized healthcare gap in access to healthcare, leading to poor health outcomes for the Hispanic population.” he states he will continue to be an advocate for patients who may not know what resources are available to them.

One student with a wider range of experience, Amanda, mentions her previous 2 rotations including Sanford Worthington Medical Center and Urgent Care in Worthington, MN. She notes challenges int his kind of setting:

“I realized the amount of responsibility there is in being a rural provider. Often waiting days for consults, she would need to make independent decisions to develop plans for patients to receive timely care. Also understanding that facilities and resources for more advanced care are hours away, we would need to make thoughtful considerations into when it was appropriate to transfer.”

Lauren Altman, who was with Hennepin Healthcare, found how to navigate her own biases, and took away important tools for getting future patients the resources they need:

“I learned to throw judgment out the window, treat the whole person and focus on making decisions which will benefit each patient long term. It was here I learned the importance of cultural humility, listening, building trust, and having empathy in caring for these patients. I greatly appreciate the efforts this hospital is making toward healthcare equality.”


Our final recipient has already had some broad experience as a pediatrician in Syria, and drew on her prior knowledge and explained her rural rotations were beneficial as “I got more experience when rural communities depended on me to be available all hours of the day and night. As a result, I often ended up significantly better, and spent more time with my patients.” she continues to state she wants to continue helping children and families get care with fewer barriers.

We congratulate all our recipients!


Scholarship Awards for 2023

Augsburg University’s PA Program is proud to announce our latest round of scholarship awards to our first- and second-year cohorts.

tile collage of scholarship students



The first scholarship is the Dr Kristofer and Mrs. Bertha E. Hagen Scholarship. Awarded annually to a student who is enrolled in the physician assistant, nursing, pre-medical or other appropriate health care-related program, the scholarship benefits students planning to volunteer or to practice in a Third World country and/or in underserved populations in the United States. Established in 1996 with gifts from the trust estate of the late Mrs. Bertha E. Hagen ’28 and her late husband, Dr. Kristofer Hagen ’29, as an expression of their dedication to missions.” We have chosen Amanda Bartosh, class of 2023 to receive this scholarship. In her time with the program, Amanda has worked hard in the past at refugee camps in Chiangmai, and has continued to put an emphasis on serving underdeveloped and underserved areas. She notes that in her time during clinical rotations in rural areas of Minnesota,

“The providers I worked with used their full scope of practice because of the limited resources. The work was challenging but extremely rewarding. I began picturing myself in their roles and getting excited about my future patient provider relationships and the growth I’d make as a practitioner. I want to serve in an area that truly needs my skills and where I can make the most impact.”


The second scholarship has allowed us to provide financial aid to multiple students of ours. The Alne-Swensen Scholarship is awarded annually to a student of any academic class who is preparing for a career in health care. Established in 1992 by Ernest and Helen Alne, Hemet, Calif., to encourage promising students and honor the memory of nurse Trine Swensen. We were able to select 4 of our students, Kao Neng Vang, Brittany Noble, Binh Vu, and Kim Day. Among the 4 of them, they have all expressed a desire to provide the best care possible to represent the program.

When thinking of the profession, each student had this to say: Kao would “love to be a provider, an educator, and a friend to those in need.” Brittany recalls experiences with past patients and “Whether it be reading Curious George, or honoring the memory of a loved one, as a PA I will empower patients with the comprehensive healthcare needed to do what matters most.” Binh discusses the social barriers of patients and commits “my passion for medicine is not only to treat diseases and help people take care of their health, but also to provide affordable care for people with socioeconomic disadvantages.” Kim highlights her ability to meet the program’s mission and expectations including “taking on the rigor of this fast paced, competitive, and challenging course load, and am proud of myself for being able to not only to meet the expectations of the program and its faculty, but to exceed those expectations and thrive within the high-pressure environment.”


The final scholarship awarded this time around was the Dahlberg and Peterson Family Scholarship. Awarded to Vanessa Amanor, the Dahlberg and Peterson Family Scholarship will provide encouragement and financial assistance to one or more upper class students preparing for a Christian vocation or for a student in their final years of the Physician Assistant program who plans to work with a multicultural population. Vanessa has has a huge impact on the program to encourage learning diversity from the start, identifying biases, and she goes on to note that during her clinical rotations, “My goal was to provide tools for self-advocacy to communities that often face enormous barriers to medical care for serious conditions, much less routine preventative care.”


Congratulations to all of our students who applied and who have received the scholarships! Check out later in the week as we reveal the winners of our Health Equity Scholarships (MDH).

2023 Health Professional Clinical Training Expansion Grant Program

Augsburg University’s PA program is proud to share some information about the grant we received this last January that helps support not only our program, but allows for support across all our graduate programs including Music Therapy, Social Work, Nursing, PsyD, and PA.


The grant, awarded by the Minnesota Department of Health, was granted to us for the following program goal here at Augsburg: Clinical Preceptorships, Telehealth, & Health Equity Scholarship Program.

The goal of this funding is to increase the number of health professionals working in rural and underserved locations through expanding the opportunity for students to train in those settings. When students train in rural and underserved settings, they are more likely to return upon graduating. With established expertise in health equity, cultural responsiveness and team-based primary care training, Augsburg University PA, nursing, social work, medical music therapy, and PsyD (health programs) are committed to support and expand team-based clinical training in the state of Minnesota. The PA department is leading this collaboration with the other health programs to accomplish 3 objectives: expand clinical training sites, provide student financial support, and establish a telehealth curriculum that will prepare Augsburg health professions students to increase health care access in rural and underserved communities across Minnesota.
We are proud to report that Augsburg University was awarded the grant’s maximum amount of $300,000 over 3 years to carry out this work. Vanessa Bester, EdD, PA-C, PA Program Director is the PI for this grant.


Health Commons Receives Health Equity Award

The Augsburg University Health Commons is proud to receive $50,000 in awards for the Health Equity Innovation Grant, funded by AARP, the AARP foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Each recipient was awarded based on the mission and goals to help eliminate structural inequities, including structural racism, in the healthcare industry while providing care and expanding access to people who are often faced with inequities and barriers to healthcare.


Learn more about the program and what director Katie Clark has to say about her gratitude and plans for expanding the Health Commons with Augsburg University’s official blog post. Check out the Health Commons website to find more information on volunteering, donating, or just to spread the word.

Faculty Update: New Adjunct Instructors

Augsburg University is excited to welcome some new adjunct instructors to our PA Program’s faculty. Each of these new members will provide a fresh perspective on teaching students and help further drive the Augsburg mission of serving the underserved within our strong communities.

Let’s learn a little more about each person joining the team:


Alannah Zheng headshotAlannah Zheng, MSPA, PA-C (Adjunct Instructor)

Alannah received her BS in Biology and BA in Spanish from Northwestern College in St. Paul in 2014 and her MSPA from Bethel University in 2017.

Alannah has over 5 years of experience in sexual and reproductive health and family medicine. She is passionate about the PA profession and serves as a Director-at-Large for the Minnesota Academy of PAs. She recently finished courseworkd to become a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) and is working towards becoming an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She is very much looking forward to her first adjunct role at Augsburg!

Alannah loves teaching and learning and would tell you that she is interested in everything! Outside of work, Alannah loves to cook, bake gluten-free recipes, crochet, work with her husband in the family restaurant, and spend time with her cats, Calliope and Copernicus, and chihuahua, Ruby.


headshot of Megan JohnsonMegan Johnson, PA-C (Adjunct Instructor)

Megan received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her Masters in Physician Assistant Studies from the University of Iowa in 2010. She has served in many roles in the fields of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Chicago, the Mayo Clinic and her current outpatient practice in the Twin Cities. She was appointed Academic Instructor by the Mayo Clinic and published original research in the Obstetrics & Gynecology green journal.

Megan has a deep-seated passion for Women’s Health and specializes in surgical management. In her free time, she enjoys spending time at the lake alongside her husband and 3 children.


headshot of mara czajaMarah Czaja, PA-C (Adjunct Instructor)

Marah is a family medicine trained and board certified Physician Assistant with an interest in addiction medicine. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and Spanish from Berea College in Berea, Kentucky in 2012 and a Master of Physician Assistant Studies degree from Elon University in Elon, North Carolina in 2016. Marah has nearly 7 years of experience working in community health centers with a focus on primary care and addiction medicine in underserved communities. She has a deep passion for supporting folks in their journey of recovery from substance use.

Marah is committed to provide high-quality, trauma informed, patient centered care. She believes that patients are the experts of their body and mind, and her role is to provide therapeutic education, knowledge, and options for healthcare. She is very excited to be a part of the Augsburg team and help train future leaders in healthcare.

In her free time, Marah enjoys spending time with her dog, cats, and chickens, hiking and exploring new state and national parks, kayaking, spending time with family and chosen family, and reading a good book!


headshot of Brittany StrelowBrittany Strelow, PA-C, DMSc (Adjunct Instructor)

Brittany received her BS in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities in 2008, her MS in Physician Assistant Studies from Pace University in New York, NY in 2011, and her DMSc from University of Lynchburg, VA in 2021.

Brittany has been a PA since 2011 with clinical practice in hematology, family medicine, and internal medicine. She has published peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, abstracts, posters, and presented locally, nationally, and internationally. She has received POCN Top PA: Internal Medicine as well as Minnesota Academy of Physician Assistants (MAPA) Preceptor/Mentor of the Year.

She is active with leadership in both state and national PA chapters, but in her free time, she is a mom to two kiddos and has a loveable chocolate lab. Her hobbies include scrapbooking and cake decorating, and she also has been an avid volunteer for the American Cancer Society.


headshot of kelsey reif in a striped shirtKelsey Reif, PA-C (Adjunct Instructor)

Kelsey Reif is originally from Minnesota. She attended Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH and received her undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry. She then went on to Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI and graduated in 2016 with her master’s in Physician Assistant Studies, returning home to MN to practice.

Kelsey started working September of 2016 as a surgical PA, focusing on general and colorectal surgery. She has a particular interest in robotic surgery and assists in these cases frequently. She also spends her time managing patients in the hospital as well as seeing patients in the outpatient clinic setting.

Kelsey has been a leader for PA students since working at HealthPartners. She overseees the PA students during their rotation with general surgery and has very much enjoyed giving back as an educator. This has now evolved into joining the Advance Practice Clinician Advisory Board as champion for advanced practice provider students at Regions. She has further advanced her education career as an adjunct faculty member with Augsburg’s PA Program.

In her spare time, Kelsey enjoys spending time with her husband and two kids. She also enjoys being active with biking and running, spending time outdoors, traveling, cooking, experiencing new restaurants, and attending live music events.

Give to the Max 2022

A huge thank you to all those who donated to support the PA Program’s Give to the Max fundraiser!


We are continuing to raise funds to help support our graduate students as they become fellows and help the program with creating a more diverse learning environment.


As a program, we recognize the disparities of the learning environment and the lack of PAs of color and those from more underserved backgrounds serving as instructors within the field. The Augsburg PA Program’s fellowship aims to close the gap of PAs of color as higher education faculty, and encourage new graduates to pursue the path of educators.


We hope that more support from institutions like Augsburg University can bolster a new network of diversity-minded and diverse professionals who will better reflect the changing landscape of healthcare. More and more patients are people of color, people from rural and historically underserved communities, and we need an education system that reflects this changing population. We are preparing our students to gain experience in a more diverse professional setting with the help of our graduate fellows, who have already experienced these different work settings through their Clinical Phase rotations and Preceptorships.


Take a glimpse at how the fellowship has made an impact on our department, and learn more about Augsburg’s ongoing initiative with the video from our campaign.


To help fund this new part of our program, donate here and select the PA Program in the drop-down menu of options.

History of Our PA Program

“Education for Service.”


The Augsburg University PA Program is proud to have recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of our first graduating class this year. As we invite our alumni to come celebrate the achievements of our current standings, we also want to take a trip down memory lane to see how far Augsburg PA has come from our start.


photocopy of newspaper ad titled 'do you know where your physician assistant is' with answers below
Augsburg Echo ad about the newest PA program


In 1994, Augsburg University began the official setup of the Physician Assistant Program. Led by Program Director Dawn Ludwig, we were a 4-year post baccalaureate program that enabled students to receive their PA license and certification. Not only was it the first (and only) PA program in Minnesota at the time, it was also designed to follow Augsburg University’s guiding principles and mission. Dean Marie McNeff, vice president for academic affairs at that time, stated in an article of Augsburg Now that:


“The college is pleased to be able to offer the physician assistant program as an example of the college’s motto of ‘Education for Service.’ Our P.A. program will educate persons to be generalist physician assistants – professionals well-educated in current theory and practice, dedicated to excellence in performance with the highest standard of ethics and integrity, committed to lifelong personal and professional development, respectful and sensitive to persons of all cultures and background, and oriented toward service to underserved populations.”¹


The first class of 23 students were located in the basement of Anderson hall and had 12 months of coursework focused on human anatomy and physiology, medical ethics, pharmacology, and more; followed by 15 months of clinical rotations in various medical areas and a 12-week long preceptorship.


Three photos showing pyshician assistants at work
Brochure for the Master of Science in Physician Assistant Program


Over time our program itself has evolved from its original certification, and in 2002 we made the official switch to the Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies degree. Today, the program is 27 months long and has 15 months of coursework on human gross anatomy, clinical medicine, pharmacotherapy, research and professional issues in the didactic phase, followed by 12 months of clinical rotations, including an 8 week preceptorship. We are proud to partner with most major health systems as well small rural hospitals and clinics throughout Minnesota, the five state area, and beyond to provide our students with the experiences they need to provide the best care to underserved and rural populations.


The curriculum and education established in 1995 has evolved over the years yet the excellence of our PA graduates persists, with a strong presence in primary care, PANCE board pass rates well above the national average, and opportunities for our students to engage in the local and global community. Two hospital exam bays with two hospital beds


Coursework isn’t the only place where we made some changes and continue to grow. In 2015, the PA Program moved locations over to Luther Seminary, in St. Paul as part of a partnership with the university to help foster urban development spaces and encourage undergraduate and graduate studies to work in tandem.


In 2019 we made our return to the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, across the street from Augsburg University, in the Riverside Plaza Medical Building. Students now have a state of the art lecture hall, small group classrooms, a dedicated lounge space, and study room. Additionally, we also have an expanded clinical skills lab with 10-fully equipped exam room bays and 2 simulated hospital bays with simulation mannequin. The clinical skills lab also supports our point of care/bedside ultrasound curriculum and use of 3 Butterfly bedside ultrasound units. Our faculty and staff are able to remain close in our 5th floor office suite in the same building.


augsburg pa program students outside of anishinabe waukiagun


Here at Augsburg, we are so excited to celebrate 25 years of learning, and we look forward to expanding our outreach. We are collaborating  with the Augsburg University Health Commons and the Nursing Program to provide care around the local communities, including  Central Lutheran Church, Cedar-Riverside Towers, and more. PA students are also learning in tandem with the Medical Music Therapy and the Master of Arts in Leadership programs through study abroad courses in Costa Rica, China, and South Africa. We look forward to more years of growth for our students and the areas they will serve throughout their careers as PAs. While we have seen many changes throughout the years, the Augsburg PA Program continues to carry forward our original guiding principles and mission.


Alumni Spotlight

Augsburg University PA Program wants to celebrate the successes of our alumni by checking back in a year after graduation. Our first alumnus is Tommie Lee James, a 2021 grad. We asked him a few questions about his experiences.


Tommie Lee James, PA-C

What type of setting do you work in? Why did you decide your chosen area?photo of tommie james in a whitecoat and smiling

Emergency PA Fellowship. I chose Emergency Medicine because it just made sense to me. I wanted to practice in an area that excited me, had a variety of pathologies, and served a diverse population and vulnerable communities. Knowing that the learning curve is steep in EM I opted for a post-graduate fellowship to augment my learning and experience.

What was the biggest transition between PA school and your first job?

For me it was the transition from “What would you do?” to “What am I going to do?”. The sense of taking full ownership of my patients and having confidence in my decisions is admittedly a transition that I am still working through.

Any tips for students applying and interviewing for their first job?

Try making connections with the places that you are applying to. As much as jobs are looking at “can you do the work?”, they are more so concerned with “will this person be good to work with?”.

Any favorite memories from Augsburg’s PA Program?

The potlucks. AU PA Class of 2021 did not mess around when it came to our potlucks!

If you were not a PA, what career could you see yourself doing?

Definitely a science teacher.

What activities do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Mostly spending time with my wife and dog. But I really enjoy traveling. Most recently Yucatan and Quintana Roo, states in Mexico.

Do you have anything else you want to share?

I would encourage students to prioritize balance and be present during their schooling. Make some time for your health, friends, and family, because time is a luxury you can never get back.


2022 Clinical Instructor of the Year

Each year, Augsburg University awards one of our preceptors with the Clinical Instructor of the Year. This award celebrates the positive impact a professional clinical preceptor has had on our students throughout the course of the clinical rotations. This year, our clinical instructor took multiple students and allowed them to perform the first of many procedures they would need to do throughout their careers as PAs. All of our clinical instructors are valuable for the rotations because it gives students a chance to get hands-on experience with patients that will give them the tools for future practice. Our preceptors follow the same approach as medical training, including the “see one, do one” approach for clinical procedures.


Augsburg University is proud to award the 2022 Clinical Instructor of the Year award to one of our 1999 alumni: Anthony Lesch.


Anthony LeschAnthony Lesch completed an undergraduate degree from St John’s University in Collegeville, MN where he also played football and baseball, and earned his Masters in Physician Assistant Studies from Augsburg University. While most of his employment history is with Stellis Health in Family Practice, he spent 2 years in Arizona while his wife worked in health care administration. While there, Tony worked in family practice on Luke Air Force base in the Emergency Department at Goodyear Hospital.

Currently, Tony is on the executive board at Stellis Health as a representative for the advanced practice practitioners. He also spent time in the CVOR and Cath Lab. Tony enjoys spending time with his family, including his four children, and dogs. He also enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, golfing and boating.