National PA Week: Celebrating the Hilltops PA Students and Faculty

WLU PA Students are pictured outside of Campbell Hall.

National Physician Assistant (PA) week was celebrated starting Oct. 6 through Oct. 12, which calls for recognizing our very own PA students and faculty on the Hilltop.

According to Dr. Robert Wetzel, a principal and assistant professor here at West Liberty University (WLU), “National PA week is a time when we pay special attention to the PA profession and attempt to educate the lay public regarding the PA profession.” Another faculty member of our PA program, Dr. William Childers, shared the history of PA week saying, “National PA week begins with national PA day celebrating the birthday of the founder of our profession, Dr. Eugene Stead. The celebration of PA week continues to increase public awareness of PA’s as educated, trained, healthcare providers.”

According to The American Academy of PAs (AAPA) website, PAs are medical professionals with thousands of hours in medical training “who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as the patient’s principle healthcare provider.” The website continued by explaining PAs practice in all 50 states and in almost every medical setting and specialty. Hilltopper Headlines reported on Oct. 6 that 90% of patients report PAs improved the quality of healthcare.

In terms of their educational background, APPA’s website states PAs are educated at the master’s degree level; additionally, there are currently over 277 PA programs in the country. Admission into PA programs is extremely competitive country-wide and requires a bachelor’s degree among other prerequisites in basic and behavioral sciences.

WLU has a Master of Science Degree in PA Studies that started in 2012 and graduated its first PA class in 2014, according to Wetzel. Currently, the program has 17 students graduating in 2021, 18 students graduating in 2022 and 17 students graduating in 2023. WLU’s PA program has nine faculty members.

Wetzel has been at the university since the start of the program and has been teaching Women’s Health. He also has an “active” role in managing and lecturing in the clinical medicine course for the program as well as the general education and admissions process for the program. “My experience [at the university] has generally been great; the students are smart and keep me constantly learning, the staff works and plays well together. It has been a great 9 years,” said Wetzel. Wetzel furthered this by explaining a career as a PA is unique and provides an opportunity to provide medical care with 2 years of post-graduate experience. “Unlike physicians and NPs [nurse practitioners], a PA is not committed to one specialty, but can change specialties with different employment opportunities. A PA does not have to commit to a career in only one medical field,” Wetzel explained.

[Dr. William] Childers, a faculty member previously mentioned in this article, has also been at WLU since the start of the PA program. “As far as my experience goes, in an increasingly challenging higher ed environment, I have been very fortunate to direct a program that has been well supported by WLU. I have been and continue to be very fortunate to work with faculty and staff that work well together and actually get along which creates a positive work environment,” said Childers. During his interview, he shared an interesting fact about National PA Week this year saying, “It is also very convenient that PA week is in close proximity to the first PA ever to enter space.”

In terms of the career itself, Childers claims that a profession as a PA gives “purpose and meaning to an increasingly complex world.” Later, he added, “Whether it’s treating a patient for Covid-19 in the ED, treating a patient’s high blood pressure in the clinic, or treating a child’s asthma in the office, PA’s treat and care for patients in every aspect of the healthcare environment.”

WLU PA student graduating with the class of 2022, Emily Bender, earned a bachelor of science degree in human biology from WLU in 2020. When choosing a PA career path for her “love of medicine”, Bender knew from a young age that she wanted to work in healthcare. “After an experience of shadowing a few PAs from different specialties, I truly felt it was the perfect job for me. I wanted to choose a career that allowed me to love what I do as well as still have time for a family and having the flexibility of working in any chosen specialty,” Bender shared.

Her advice to anyone wanting to join the PA profession is “to go for it!” Bender explained, “It is great for someone who knows they want to work in medicine but may not want to be working in one specialty their entire life, or someone who wants flexibility with the paths they choose to go after receiving their degree. Also, there is always room to learn, and being in this profession you get to work so closely with other health care workers that allow you to learn something new every day.”

According to Bender, there is a student society within the program for each class of students. Her class has been impacted by the pandemic and has been restricted from doing many fundraisers and activities on campus as well as the surrounding areas of Wheelings in comparison to student societies in the past. “I do know this year, the class of 2023, has had a spirit week and activities to advocate for PAs as well,” said Bender.

Any questions regarding the content in this article should be directed to Annalise Murphy by emailing [email protected]. For more information about WLU’s PA program and the requirements for application, please visit the WLU’s PA program website by following this link or call (304) 336-5098.