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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.


PA Fellowship of 2022 Awarded!

Augsburg University’s PA Program Proudly Adds 2 New Fellows to Our 2022-2023 Year


headshot of ashley schleh in a pa program white coat
Ashley Schleh

As a part of our Equity and Inclusion initiatives here at Augsburg University, we are proud to welcome two of our graduating students back as Fellows for the 2022-2023 year. Ashley Schleh and Katie Schmitz are awarded the opportunity to grow their skills as mentors and PAs in the time between graduation and clinical practice. This fellowship aims to address some of the inequities in the medical field and PA education by supporting diversity focused PA graduates to become mentors, preceptors and hopefully future faculty. It is an opportunity to help foster a culture that inspires diversity and inclusion of new and current students and to help them navigate their journey to become a PA.


Our graduate fellow program allows recent grads the opportunity to learn about the principles of health professions education from the PA program’s faculty and staff directly. They will also assist the current cohorts through mentorship, lecturing, assisting in the skills lab, and facilitating discussion of case studies. They will also provide important feedback on how to make our program and curriculum more inclusive and supportive of all students and the diverse populations they will serve.


When expressing interest in the program and its goals, Ashley Schleh mentions:

” I recognize the importance of creating and maintaining a culture of inclusiveness collectively within our program. I truly believe that education and overall understanding of the importance of diversity and inclusion is vital to the creation of empathetic and culturally competent clinicians.”


headshot of katie schmitz in a white pa program coat
Katie Schmitz

Katie Schmitz states in her application that she would like to continue fostering diverse environments as she looks into her future of clinical practice, preceptorship, or even as a possible faculty member. She notes:

“…a genuine passion for medicine and learning coupled with sincere empathy is what transforms a strong student into an outstanding clinician. It has been a gift to receive the title of ‘lifelong learner’ and would be a privilege to leave behind a mark of gratitude through serving as an Augsburg PA Graduate Fellow while continuing my education.”

Augsburg University’s PA Program looks forward to having Ashley and Katie join our faculty and staff as they grow and work alongside the academic cohort.


Augsburg Faculty Article Publication

Vanessa BesterAugsburg University’s PA Program is proud to announce our Program Director, Dr. Vanessa Bester, has recently worked with co-author Dr. Carolyn Bradley-Guidry to publish a research article. The article, “Assessing Harmful Bias and Celebrating Strength Through the Narratives of Black/African American Physician Assistant Students” was published in the Journal of Physician Assistant Education in July, and covers the experiences of Black/African American PAs within the healthcare system.


The article opens up a discussion on ensuring that Black/African American PA students can get the proper support they need during studies, and opens the floor for bridging the racial disparity gap among students, and among caregivers and their patients.


Check out the article on the Journal of Physician Assistant Education’s site.


Dr. Bester has written a number of articles including “I Can’t Breathe—Courageous Conversations and Responses to Racism in Physician Assistant Education” and “Minority Physician Assistant Faculty: A Phenomenological Assessment of Factors Leading to Retention in the Faculty Role” among others.

Scholarship Spotlight: The Dawn Ludwig Legacy Scholarship

We are proud to announce our winner for the Dawn Ludwig Legacy Scholarship for 2022: Megan Knoll!

megan knoll dressed in an Ausgburg labelled whitecoat and smiling at the camera

The Dawn Ludwig Legacy Scholarship was established to honor the legacy of the first Augsburg PA Program Director, Dawn Ludwig. The intent of this scholarship is to recognize, encourage and provide financial support to a Physician Assistant student in their final year of study. The Dawn Ludwig Legacy Scholarship is awarded to students who show academic achievement and financial need, and who have exhibited the positive qualities and spirit that Dawn demonstrated and taught throughout her career, including professionalism, leadership, community engagement and service, commitment to family and faith, clinical aptitude, and a personal conviction to “do what’s right for its own sake”.

Megan has demonstrated great skill in the academic courses in her time here with Augsburg University, and she has an aptitude for putting her heart into all that she does. When looking into the scholarship she mentions the importance of doing what she can for the community, including setting up and leading free and educational health screening events. Megan goes on to say:


“I will not always be right, but I will “do what’s right for its own sake”. I accept that I will not always know every answer, but I know that I can seek the help and expertise from my team and use my skills in research to find the solution. The most exciting part of this field is the lifelong learning and discovery that comes with it. Once established in my practice, I plan to pass my knowledge and skills to students as a clinical preceptor and be a spokesperson for recruiting providers and nurses in underserved regions.”


We are proud to have Megan in our class of 2022 and can’t wait to see what she will accomplish as she carries out the legacy of Dawn Ludwig in her time as a PA student and as a future PA in rural regions. Congratulations, Megan!