University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine holds first Physician Assistant Studies Program White Coat Ceremony

Program combats shortage of Nevada health care providers and improves health care access

UNR Med PA White Coat Ceremony 2019

The inaugural 24 Physician Assistant (PA) Studies Program students at UNR Med received their first white coats, officially transitioning to clinical training during a white coat ceremony held on the University campus on July 12, 2019. UNR Med photo by David Calvert.

With the first year of classroom medical education under their belts, the inaugural 24 Physician Assistant (PA) Studies Program students at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med) received their first white coats, officially transitioning to clinical training during a white coat ceremony held on the University campus today. The milestone marks the beginning of the students’ clinical journey toward becoming physician assistants.

"We are exceptionally proud to honor the Class of 2020, representing our first class of PA students as they complete academic studies and advance into clinical training," said UNR Med PA Studies Program Founding Director, Brian Lauf, PA-C. “The white coat is symbolic of the transformation from student status, to becoming a health care professional, and also symbolizes caring, commitment, trust and respect, associated with the profession of medicine.”

The white coat ceremony is a rite of passage for PA students. The students recite the Honor Pledge and reaffirm their commitment to professionalism, humanism and compassionate care with students reciting the Honor Pledge.

UNR Med, in partnership with Renown Health, launched the PA Studies Program in June 2018 to meet the growing need for more health care professionals locally and statewide. The 24 PA students were chosen from 715 applicants. The PA students began instruction on July 2, 2018 at the University of Nevada, Reno Redfield Campus in south Reno and will graduate in August 2020.

The 25-month long full-time master’s degree program is the first such program in the Nevada System of Higher Education. PA students complete rigorous academic and clinical courses, clinical skills training and supervised clinical practice, resulting in a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies degree. Upon completion, PAs are qualified to diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, write prescriptions, perform and assist in surgeries.

With Nevada ranking No. 48 for number of physicians per capita, according to a UNR Med Physician Workforce in Nevada report from June 2018, physician assistants play a critical role in meeting northern Nevada and the state’s health care needs. Demand for PAs is expected to grow by nearly 40 percent nationally over the next 10 years (U.S. News and World Report).

Ryan Wong, who was raised in northern Nevada and plans to stay in-state and work in primary care, said he chose UNR Med’s PA Program because of the mission and commitment to serving Nevada’s underserved communities. “What distinguishes the PA program at UNR Med from others is the emphasis on providing care for diverse patient populations in underserved communities in Nevada. There are populations throughout Nevada that need help. Health disparities exist in our community and in rural, frontier and urban areas, from Tahoe to communities in Las Vegas. I truly believe the training I receive through the PA program will allow me to be a competent, compassionate, and effective provider in any setting for our state,” said Wong. 

The program strives to attract and train qualified candidates from rural and urban underserved communities in Nevada. Data show medical professionals tend to stay and practice within the communities where they train, further demonstrating the long-term impact the program will have on increasing available health care professionals in rural and urban areas.

“UNR Med’s PA Studies Program is a testament to the unwavering commitment of our School of Medicine, our University, our community partners and our state to make a PA Studies program a reality at UNR Med,” said UNR Med Dean, Thomas L. Schwenk, M.D. “This high impact program is off to an immensely successful start, under the leadership of Brian Lauf, PA-C, and the exemplary faculty who will produce PAs who are prepared to enter practice immediately after graduation.”

The School of Medicine joined forces with Renown Health to provide program development, start-up and clinical training. Prior to the 2018 launch of the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine Physician Assistant Studies Program, the closest PA program was located in Sacramento, California. Longtime supporter William N. Pennington Foundation provided critical facility, equipment and technology support, as well as student scholarships. Other community partners have also provided scholarship support, including the employees of Spine Nevada.

Class of 2020 At-A-Glance

  • 715 applicants, 24 accepted
  • 21 are Nevada residents
  • 18 women
  • Six men
  • Nine are graduates from the University of Nevada, Reno
  • One veteran
  • 3.44 average GPA
  •  Average age: 31
  • Average of 9,072 patient care hours among incoming students, garnered from work as certified nursing assistants, dietitians, emergency medical technicians, medical technologists, nurses, radiologic technicians, and special forces, among others.

For more on the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine PA Studies Program visit The UNR Med PA Studies Program received Accreditation-Provisional by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education (ARC-PA). Information about Accreditation-Provisional status and what that means to a PA program is available at

Media Contacts

Julie Ardito, APR
Senior Director, Advancement and Engagement
Office: (775) 784-6006

Tessa Bowen, MPA
Communications Manager, Advancement and Engagement
Office: (775) 682-9254

The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Nevada's first public medical school, is a community-based, research-intensive medical school with a statewide vision for a healthy Nevada. Established in 1969, UNR Med is improving the health and well-being of all Nevadans and their communities through excellence in student education, postgraduate training and clinical care, research with local, national and global impact and a culture of diversity and inclusion.