Inaugural NSU class of physician assistant studies students set to graduate
MUSKOGEE, Okla. — Keys native Kaylee Switzer was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when she was two years old.
Switzer said she was blessed to have some of the most phenomenal providers taking care of her through this time and it has left a lasting impact on her.
“I knew even as a kid that I wanted to be like them when I grew up,” Switzer said. “I had such positive experiences with physician assistants as a patient that I felt called to this profession, hoping to one day provide care to others like it was so graciously given to me.”
On Dec. 10, Switzer will be able to complete that dream when she graduates from the Northeastern State University Physician Assistant Studies program. Switzer and 19 other students will comprise the first cohort to graduate from the program.
“Being among the first to graduate from this program at NSU makes me feel extremely thankful and blessed,” Switzer said. “I feel honored to represent the NSU PA program not only now as a student, but throughout my career as a PA. It feels very rewarding knowing the feedback from my classmates and I are preparing the program for years to come. I am excited to watch the program grow and to work alongside fellow graduates of the NSU PA program in the future.”
She added joining the NSU PA program felt a little like coming back home for her. Switzer graduated from NSU with a Bachelor of Science in Health and Human Performance in 2017. She said once NSU announced the creation of a physician assistant studies program she knew she had to apply. She loved the opportunity to learn about medicine from phenomenal professors and enjoyed all of the experiences and skills learned from instructors, while doing her clinical rotations and working alongside her classmates.
In 2020, NSU welcomed its first cohort of physician assistant studies students. The Physician Assistant Studies Program is part of a broad university plan for developing and implementing programming that provides direct benefit to the regional needs of northeastern Oklahoma.
“Myself and the other faculty couldn't be prouder of all of their hard work and determination,” Mark Perdue, NSU physician assistant studies program director, said. “In addition to being the first cohort, the students of 2022 began their education in the context of the pandemic. As you can imagine, they faced a number of unique challenges. They have shown a lot of fortitude and determination to complete their education despite those challenges. It's a pleasure to see the students mature into compassionate and competent physician assistants.”
The physician assistant studies curriculum consists of 75 credit hours in the didactic year housed on NSU’s Muskogee campus and 35 credit hours in the clinical phase of training conducted through regional medical centers including Northeastern Health System, the Cherokee Nation, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Northeastern Oklahoma Community Health Centers and Saint Francis Health System.
Perdue said part of the program’s mission is to provide physician assistants to serve in rural Oklahoma as well as underserved populations such as American Indians. He added many of the students in the 2022 cohort are pursuing careers with program partners in Indian health and rural medicine.
Perdue said a distinctive feature of the NSU physician assistant program is its curriculum. The program works with community health care leaders to provide instruction and learning opportunities. He added an example of this type of partnership is reflected in its emergency medicine module, where local physician assistants and physicians that work in emergency medicine and surgery instruct students. Other partnerships include working with Air Evac in Muskogee to help students learn more about the capabilities of the medical helicopter.
“Our partners for our clinical rotation sites have given us a lot of feedback about our students' performance on clinical rotations,” Perdue said. “They are impressed. Our students consistently demonstrate preparation and hard work. Future employers should expect an NSU PA program graduate to be a hard-working, compassionate and competent health care provider.”
Switzer said it is difficult to choose one favorite thing about her experience, adding she just loved the opportunity to learn about medicine from phenomenal professors and during her clinical rotations. Switzer said she is also thankful to have been working alongside supportive classmates who have become some of her closest friends.
“It has been the most challenging but rewarding experience of my entire life. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning from phenomenal physician assistants, physicians and preceptors. I cannot believe it is almost over but I feel very excited to be joining the physician assistant profession.”
For more information on the upcoming fall 2022 commencement ceremonies and guidelines, visit www.nsuok.edu/commencement. To view the livestream of the commencement ceremonies on Dec. 10, visit NSU’s Facebook page at facebook.com/NSURiverHawks/.
To learn more about the physician assistant studies program at NSU visit https://academics.nsuok.edu/healthprofessions/DegreePrograms/Graduate/PhysicianAssistantStudies/default.aspx.