Inaugural Physician Assistant Studies Program Class of 2020 graduates from the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

First UNR Med PA graduates prepared to bolster Nevada’s health care workforce

A collage of photos of PA Studies Program graduates

Northern Nevada's newest PA's earned the Degree of Master of Physician Assistant Studies after completing the 25-month long full-time master's degree program at UNR Med. Photos courtesy of PA Studies Program graduates. 

Two years after the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med) launched its new Physician Assistant (PA) Studies Program, the inaugural class graduated today in a Physician Assistant Studies Virtual Completion Ceremony, becoming the first graduates of the program. The live-streamed ceremony is available for on-demand viewing on UNR Med's YouTube channel.

Northern Nevada's newest PA's earned the Degree of Master of Physician Assistant Studies after completing the 25-month long full-time master's degree program.

UNR Med took its completion ceremony virtual in compliance with the latest federal and state coronavirus recommendations for the COVID-19 pandemic. Hosting a digital completion ceremony is the final academic milestone for these students who are prepared to enter Nevada's health care workforce after taking the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE), before beginning employment. After receiving their PANCE certifications, the majority of graduates plan to stay in northern Nevada to increase access to care.

As the students celebrated their achievement, Founding Program Director of the UNR Med PA Studies Program, Brian S. Lauf, DMSc, PA-C, DFAAPA, reflected on the two years since the program launched.

"We set out to establish a world-class program and our founding class represents that success," Lauf said. "Our celebration shifted, but it doesn't diminish their accomplishments and the immense pride we have in them."

UNR Med Dean Thomas L. Schwenk, M.D., said the School of Medicine has a strong foundation under which the PA program was built.

"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 for northern Nevada," said Schwenk. "This high impact program is seeing great successes under the leadership of Brian Lauf, and the exemplary faculty and curriculum that is producing PAs who are prepared to enter practice immediately after graduation."

With graduating PA students stepping into their roles at a most vital time, Dean Schwenk spoke about the challenges facing today's PA graduates as a result of the pandemic, thanked students for their dedication, and encouraged them as they take the next step in their careers as physician assistants.

"You are graduating at a time of enormous disruption, one of the most cataclysmic times in the last hundred years of world history. But it is also a time of enormous opportunity," said Schwenk. "This crisis will accelerate the pace of change in its aftermath, leading to opportunities for highly-trained health care professionals like you. And you can bring your skills to bear with more immediate and tangible results. The challenges, and therefore the opportunities, are endless."

Graduating PA student and Class of 2020 President Rhiannon Broersma said the COVID-19 pandemic has prepared her even more, to do what she can to strengthen health equity and care as the pandemic is disproportionately affecting African Americans.

"We feel extremely well-prepared," Broersma said. "I also feel extremely privileged to have been part of this inaugural class. My classmates and I are graduating with an elevated awareness of racial injustice and health care inequality, and we're committed to not only address those issues, but help make positive changes where we can."

This year's commencement speaker was Kevin C. Melcher, Member, Nevada State Board of Education and Vice-Chair for the Community Foundation of Western Nevada. Melcher spoke to graduates in a pre-recorded message on the sudden reality of being in the midst of a pandemic, providing wisdom and maturity that is impossible to duplicate in a classroom. He encouraged graduates to embrace and remember all of the struggles and challenges as their careers move forward.

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

UNR Med, in partnership with Renown Health created the new PA Studies Program to meet the growing need for more healthcare professionals locally and statewide. The first class of PA students began instruction on July 2, 2018 at the University of Nevada, Reno Redfield Campus. Longtime supporter William N. Pennington Foundation has provided critical facility, equipment, technology and scholarship support.

Established in 1969, Nevada's first public medical school has educated more than 3,900 students, residents and fellows.

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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.

Released: Tuesday September 1, 2020 @ 4:30 PM