St. Kate’s first PA program graduates reflect on experience

Photo by Rebecca Slater '10 / By Rebecca Studios

Cassi Jo Groshek ’12 MPAS’14, Zach Bolin MPAS’14 and Allyssa Kittock MPAS’14 are among the first cohort of students to graduate from the PA program. Photo by Rebecca Slater ’10 / By Rebecca Studios

During their time at St. Kate’s, Zach Bolin MPAS’14, Allyssa Kittock MPAS’14 and Cassi Jo Groshek ’12 MPAS’14 forged friendships, developed professional connections and honed their medical skills. The trio of friends is among the first cohort of students to graduate from the University's Master of Physician Assistant Studies (PA) program, launched in the fall of 2012.

Crossing The O’Shaughnessy stage to accept her diploma was a bittersweet moment for Groshek, who’s spent the last six-and-a-half years studying at St. Kate’s. She majored in food and nutrition science as an undergrad before being accepted into the PA program.

“St. Kate’s is like my home. It feels like I’m closing a huge chapter of my life,” she says.

Her next “life chapter” takes Groshek back to her childhood home — this time as a newly-minted physician assistant for Bridge Community Health Clinic in Wausau, Wisconsin.

While Groshek applied to other PA programs during her initial grad school search, once she received the acceptance letter from St. Kate’s, her decision was clear.

“I originally came to St. Kate’s because of its reputation in healthcare,” she says. “I knew this is where I would attend.”

After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Bolin and Kittock also shopped around as prospective PA students. In the end, Kittock’s Catholic faith drew her to St. Kate’s, while the close-knit community attracted Bolin.

“I was also impressed by the brand new, state-of-the-art facilities,” says Bolin. “It provides a great opportunity to practice your clinical skills in a didactic setting.”

Like Groshek, the two have also landed jobs — Kittock at Park Nicollet in urgent care and Bolin in family medicine at a Fairview Clinic in Apple Valley.

The three learned a valuable lesson in networking and credit their employment in large part to faculty and preceptor (their clinical supervisors) support.

“They went to bat for me and put their names out there to help during my hiring process. I was blown away by how much support I’ve received along the way,” says Kittock.

Cultivating career-ready students

The program’s curriculum, of course, played a significant role in making them career-ready.

“Many of us are going into family medicine. With St. Kate’s focus on primary care, it was easy to get our feet wet and gain the clinical skills we needed,” says Groshek.

Similar to St. Kate’s other successful healthcare programs, the PA program takes a unique integrated approach in its curriculum.

“Our curriculum uses many delivery methods beyond standard lectures, focuses on clinical reasoning and incorporates technology,” says Heather Bidinger, founding program director and assistant professor.

Bolin is quick to chime in that the PA program’s emphasis on interprofessional, team-based care also made a difference in their education.

“With the healthcare industry’s push towards primary care, PAs are going to play an instrumental role,” he says. “Our faculty and preceptors have worked hard and sacrificed so much to get us where we are today. I’m feeling pretty good about my career outlook.”

Forging a new path

As the program launched, the students, faculty and staff assumed a pioneering role of sorts.

“Everything in the last two-and-a-half years has been a first!” says Bidinger. “From the first orientation to this first graduation and now as we wait to learn how they fare on the national board exams.”

Early national board preparation exams showed the students on track and surpassing the national mean for students from all PA programs taking these exams.

“We had confidence that our program design offered the best way for adult students to learn medicine and critical clinical reasoning skills. But without a comparison group, it was natural to have some first time reservations,” Bidinger adds.

The real litmus test — student success in their first clinical rotations — quickly proved how well the program was doing.“

All of my preceptors remarked that my classmates and I were so knowledgeable — and I attribute that to the preparation we received,” says Kittock. “There may be other local PA programs, but I have no doubt St. Kate’s will emerge as one of the best schools for physician assistant studies.”

Bidinger says the applicant pool has continued to grow each year, from 70 in the first class to well over 300 in the most recent application cycle.

Bolin points to the growing wait list of strong, qualified prospective students as another testament to program’s success. “My message to them is to keep trying,” he says. “Continue to apply. It’s a promising field and St. Kate’s offers a great program.”

PA cohort 2014
Highlights from the first PA cohort
  • Twenty-four students clocked nearly 50,000 clinical hours to complete their education.
  • Dozens of clinical partners, large and small worked with the students including Allina, Children's Hospital, Essentia Health, Hennepin County Medical Center, HealthEast, Fairview, North Memorial, Park Nicollet, Regions Hospital and the VA system, to name just a few.
  • Seven students took advantage of international experiences:
    • Three traveled to Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic as part of a larger delegation of students from the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health.
    • Three students traveled to South Korea to compare depression screening for immigrant populations there with similar populations in the United States.
    • One student went to Guatemala to help with a pediatric orthopedic surgery mission with Shriners Hospital as part of an elective rotation in orthopedics.
  • Twenty students have received job offers — many are choosing between multiple offers.

By Sharon Rolenc