Spring/Summer 2018
Physician Assistant Studies

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

PA studies inaugural class

The inaugural class of UNR Med's PA Studies Program. Row 1: Jordan Williams, Ryan Wong, Ceclia Bowers, Brianne Madsen and Vincent Waldron; Row 2: Ashlee Polkinghorn and Amanda Wong; Row 3: Taryn Bales, Audrey McDougal, Lauren Coons, Jennie Verkuyl, Cory Wilcox;
Row 4: Jeanna Burke, Ashley Mueller, Jenica Law, Lydia Morrison and Kaja Anderson-Howard. Not pictured: Alexa Garol, Amanda Berner, Elysia Jones, Gabrielle Buma, Michael Redmon, Rhiannon Broersma and Tanner Cavanaugh. Photo by Brin Reynolds.

Inaugural Physician Assistant Studies cohort begins 25-month journey

Story by Tessa Bowen

Class of 2020 by the numbers

6 male | 18 female

21/24 Nevadans

6 from underserved areas

Average age: 30

Average GPA: 3.44

The inaugural class includes an army medic, a nurse and an EMT, as well as a newlywed and a brother-sister duo.

The inaugural class of 24 University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine Physician Assistant (PA) Studies Program students began their first day of instruction at the University of Nevada, Reno Redfield Campus in south Reno on July 2. The new program is positioned to increase the number of healthcare professionals in northern Nevada and the state.

The 25-month, full-time master's degree program includes academic and clinical courses, clinical skills training and supervised clinical practice. Upon completion, PAs are qualified to conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, write prescriptions, and perform and assist in surgery.
Northern Nevada natives and members of the inaugural class, Amanda Wong '14 (neuroscience) and her brother Ryan Wong '11 (biochemistry and molecular biology), '16 M.Ed., are excited for the new program and the opportunity to complete it together.

"I am choosing to attend UNR Med for PA school because I want to give back to the community that has provided me with so many wonderful opportunities," said Amanda Wong. "UNR Med's PA Studies Program's mission and vision will help train me to become a compassionate and skilled primary care PA who is able to strengthen health care in our community."

UNR Med's PA Studies Program is the first such program in the Nevada System of Higher Education and supports the Educated and Healthy Citizenry priority outlined in Gov. Brian Sandoval's Strategic Plan.

A particular focus of the program is attracting and training 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.

"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," said Ryan Wong. "Health disparities exist in our community and in rural, frontier and urban areas, from Tahoe to communities in Las Vegas."

The School of Medicine joined forces with Renown Health to provide program development, start-up and clinical training. Longtime supporter William N. Pennington Foundation has provided critical facility, equipment and technology support.

"UNR Med's new PA Studies Program is a testament to the unwavering commitment of our School of Medicine, our University, our community partners and our state over the past four years to make a PA Studies Program a reality at UNR Med," said University of Neva- da, Reno School of Medicine Dean, Thomas L. Schwenk, M.D. "This high impact program is positioned for success under the leadership of Founding Director, Brian Lauf, PA-C, and the exemplary faculty, students and curriculum."

The new program is key to UNR Med and Renown Health's joint focus on training the next generation of healthcare providers and addressing the shortage of providers in the region. Before the partnership, the closest PA program was located in Sacramento, California.

"This collaboration is another example of how Renown and the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine work together to ensure access to high-quality care for our rapidly growing community," said Doug Merrill, M.D., MBA, M.A., executive vice president, chief medical and academic officer at Renown Health. "Physician assistants are important and integral members of our medical teams and provide excellent care to the patients of northern Nevada, which is why we're excited this program is here to increase and to keep highly skilled providers in Nevada."

Following graduation, PAs are prepared to enter practice immediately. Amanda and Ryan Wong both plan to remain in Nevada and work in primary care.

Said Ryan Wong, "There are populations throughout Nevada that need help. I truly believe the training I receive will allow me to be a competent, compassionate and effective provider in any setting for our state."


Applications for next summer's incoming class of PA students are being accepted through September 1. Visit med.unr.edu/physician-assistant to learn more about the Physician Assistant Studies Program or application process.