Celebrating 50 Years of Being PA Proud

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From left to right, John Philip Colletta, PhD; Dustin Burkman, PA Class of 2018; and Karen Wright, PhD, PA-C

Each year, the Physician Assistant (PA) Program at the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) joins the rest of the country in celebrating PA Week. This year, the celebration marked the 50th anniversary of the profession, which was highlighted during a PA Week Reception on Oct. 10.

Karen Wright, PhD, PA-C, assistant dean for student life and academic support in health sciences, director of the PA Program, and interim chair for the Department of Physician Assistant Studies at SMHS, welcomed guests to the event.

“On Oct. 6, 1967, the first cohort of PA students graduated from Duke University,” she said. “In 50 years we have grown from three to more than 115,000 PAs in the country.”

I loved being able to practice the kind of medicine and patient care that allowed me to have a direct impact and provided me the opportunity to feel fulfilled every day.” - Carol Hoffman, PA ’77

GW’s PA Program has seen its share of accomplishment during that growth. Wright noted the dedication of the program’s students to the profession and their community. Students in the program have dedicated time to raising money for organizations such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Miriam’s Kitchen, Children’s Miracle Network, and the American Cancer Society.

“I am certainly PA proud,” Wright said. Many other students, faculty, and alumni shared how proud they were being part of the profession and the program at GW.

“I love being a PA student because I know I am working to join the ranks of a group of amazing medical professionals who exemplify quality patient care,” said second-year PA student Bailey Limyansky. “It is amazing to hear other clinicians speak so highly of the PAs they work with and how much they can contribute to medical care teams.”

Francis Kelleher, PA-C ’77, echoed Limyansky.

“You can make whatever you want out of the PA profession. It has provided me with incredible opportunities, diversity, flexibility, and experiences. I have worked in rural, metropolitan and suburban areas and in a variety of specialties and family medicine: occupational medicine, emergency medicine, urgent care and neuro-otology. Every day is exciting, different, stimulating and challenging. At 71 years of age, I still look forward to going into work and enjoy my patients.”

During the reception, PA Program leaders presented awards to individuals for their steadfast commitment to the profession.

Dennis Siracusa, PA-C ’95, adjunct instructor of physician assistant studies at SMHS, received the Distinguished Public Service Award. Siracusa entered into the PA Program after ending a 26-year career as a social studies teacher in D.C. public schools. He also served for many years on the board of directors for the District of Columbia Academy of Physician Assistants before being elected president.

“I had another career before I became a PA,” he said. “But when I became a PA, I realized that I had found what I had been looking for my entire life.”

I just finished an extremely exciting and arguably successful 22-year career as a military physician – and I have no doubt whatsoever that I would have categorically failed on a double-digit number of occasions were it not for the sage counsel of the seasoned military physician assistants who ‘raised me right.’  Military medicine very simply would not function without the leadership of PAs.” - Col. Kevin O’Connor, DO

The Dr. Jules Cahan Distinguished Teaching Award went to SMHS alumni and PA-physician partners Paul Marino, PA-C ’79, and Karim Trad, MD, RESD ’87, for their commitment to their patients and advancing surgical knowledge and expertise.

“We work extremely well together and I think that helps make the students’ experience with us even more meaningful,” Marino said of working with Trad. “They get to experience what the ideal PA-physician relationship is like.”

Trad added, “[PA students] always tell us ‘you guys really show us how PAs and MDs can work together.’”

Capping off the evening was the presentation of the Terrence E. Barr Memorial Scholarship to Tolton Society co-president Dustin Burkman, a member of the Class of 2018. The scholarship is awarded to a qualified student in the PA Program as decided by the program faculty. Burkman was selected for his commitment to community service, advocacy, and leadership.

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