Physician assistant students conquer rigorous curriculum

The physician assistant (PA) program at Seton Hill University (SHU) continues to produce successful students through its rigorous curriculum, with a pass rate of 96 percent.

SHU offers a unique setup for PA students. Students have the opportunity to complete their degree in a five-year bachelor’s and master’s degree right out of high school (B.S. M.S.), or by completing an undergraduate degree followed by two years of graduate study in a hands on environment.

“The way it is set up, the classes are all building off one another. You are learning the same topic from different perspectives: from a pharmacological standpoint, from a clinical standpoint, from a pathophysiological standpoint all at the same time. So you might be in three different classes but you are learning the same materials, so that helps in the learning process,” said Rowberry.

 Chelsea Rickert and Lindsey Rowberry, along with their professor and 2002 alum of SHU’s PA program Crystal Byerly, agreed to have a video interview with members of the Setonian staff.

 In the field, PA’s work under the supervision of a physician, among other duties.

“You can do up to 85 percent of the duties that a physician can do including physical examinations, diagnosing and treating, perform procedures and work in surgery,” said Rowberry. She is in the graduate portion of the program.

“Physician assistants also have the right to write prescriptions,” said Rickert. Rickert chose the B.S. M.S. program at SHU. She is currently completing the didactic section of the program.

“You cannot do a solo surgery or have your own solo practice,” said Byerly.

Approximately 36 students are currently enrolled per class in the program at SHU. Most PA programs double that number.

“I chose to complete this program because of the program size. A lot of PA programs will enroll up to 80 students. At Seton Hill we have about 34 in our class. I actually really like that because we get more individualized attention with the faculty, we know our classmates very well and we get a lot of hands on time in the laboratory setting,” said Rickert.

Being accepted into PA school is a competitive process. High SAT/ACT scores, face-to-face interviews and the understanding of a rigorous curriculum are just a part of the acceptance process.

“We receive over 700 applications a year. They are the cream of the crop, and it was rigorous for them to be accepted to be here,” Byerly said.

“We do not have the philosophy that we are going to enroll a high number of students and then weed out people. We really want to retain every student that we originally accept. So we do keep our numbers low because we want to get the best out of each of you,” said Byerly.

While the work involved with their major is sometimes overwhelming and difficult, nether Rowberry or Rickert regret their decision.

“You can probably count on at least eight hours a day in the classroom setting, and that’s just your lecture material. Outside of that you’ve got your lab time practicing and studying on top of that. Sleep is limited, as well as time for other activities,” said Rowberry.

“We love it so much that it is all worth it to us. It is a rigorous curriculum, but we are learning what we want to learn, so it’s not a drag to do the classes and study,” said Rickert.

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