A little more than two years ago and in the thick of a winter COVID-19 outbreak, the Bryant University Physician Assistant Class of 2023 marked their white coat ceremony seated three feet apart, masked up, and without family and friends surrounding them.
“Now, 27 months later, you sit next to some of your best friends,” said student orator and student society president Michaela Hatam to the audience at the PA Graduate Program commencement on Saturday, March 25. “These people got you through the high-highs and the low-lows, and they are going to be with you for the rest of your life.”
Representing the program’s seventh class, the 45 graduates were selected from a pool of 600 applicants. Over the course of their two-year program, within Bryant’s School of Health and Behavioral Sciences, the students completed more than 1,800 hours in clinical rotations and more than 2,000 hours in the classroom — one of which involved student Bryan Whittemore rushing out for the birth of his daughter, baby bag in-hand. Lucy donned a white coat of her own to watch her dad graduate Saturday with honors.
“The entire Bryant community is proud of you: proud of the hard work and dedication it took to complete your degree, proud of your commitment to the medical profession and to serving others, and proud of your passion and determination to improve access to quality medical care across the state, across the country, and across the world,” Bryant University President Ross Gittell, Ph.D., told the graduates, who earned “advanced learner standing” for their practical exam performance.
In addition to academic excellence, the PA Class of 2023 was committed to volunteerism, raising nearly $40,000 for the American Heart Association and $8,000 for Clinica Esperanza in Providence, where they provided free health care to clients from low-income communities. The group also volunteered with the Rhode Island Disaster Medical Reserve Corps’ COVID-19 vaccination clinic.
“In true PA form, they did this for the greater good,” said Program Director Ashley A. Hughes, MSPAS, PA-C.
Opened by Provost Rupendra Paliwal, Ph.D., with an invocation and benediction by Bryant Jewish Chaplain Rabbi Steven Jablow, the commencement featured a conferral of degrees by Gittell, Paliwal, Hughes, and Stephen Sherman, MSPAS, PA-C ’19, assistant director of didactic education. After the graduates received their diplomas, they went backstage to change from black cap and gown to white coat.
“Wow, this feels so good,” said Kelsey Heck as she shrugged on her coat, her name embroidered beside the left lapel. In groups of five, the new PA-Cs returned to their seats in a sea of white to recite the physician assistant oath together.
“I will hold as my primary responsibility the health, safety, welfare, and dignity of all human beings,” they said, echoing a call by Bryant Trustee Margaret Van Bree, Dr.PH., from earlier in the day.
“We’re in need of your talent, your empathy, and your compassion,” Van Bree told the graduates. “I look at you and see the hope for our future.”
The application cycle for the PA Class of 2026 opens April 27. To learn more about Bryant University’s Physician Assistant Graduate Program, visit Bryant.edu/physician-assistant.