Physician Assistant Program: Student Profile
Jennifer Deuel, a student in the Physician Assistant master's degree program at Upstate Medical University, has long felt the tug of a career in health care. At first, she wasn't sure which direction to go.
"I've wanted to go into health care since as far back as high school," said Deuel, who grew up in a Syracuse suburb. "I was unsure of what role I wanted, and initially I was interested in research."
While she was an undergraduate at Syracuse University and SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry (she earned a B.S. in biotechnology), Deuel volunteered at Upstate University Hospital, helping in the Emergency Department and with pediatric patients.
During that time, her father became ill and needed a liver transplant. That experience gave Deuel a closer look at the relationship between patients and their medical providers, and her career path came into focus.
"I definitely wanted patient care," she said. "I researched Physician Assistants, and that immediately became my goal."
Before becoming a member of Upstate's charter PA class in 2009, Deuel took graduate health sciences courses at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
She also volunteered at a Salvation Army clinic and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and accumulated the necessary hours of health care related experience to qualify for Upstate's PA program. (The minimum is 1,000 volunteer and/or paid hours, but Deuel and many other PA students far exceed that).
An aspect of the Upstate PA program that Deuel appreciates is the ability to explore many different specialties in clinical rotations. She's considering emergency medicine, endocrinology or neurology, but she's keeping her options open.
"We're in a place where people really care about our education," Deuel said. "You get to know your professors and classmates. The support system is huge, which is important because this is a rigorous program."
Upstate's PA students benefit from being part of an academic medical university, where there's a Human Anatomy Lab and Clinical Skills Teaching Center on campus. Several teaching hospitals are within walking distance, and PA students take anatomy, pharmacology and behavioral science with students from Upstate's College of Medicine.
After their 15 months of didactic training concludes, Deuel and her classmates will spend a year training with preceptors in one of several cities and communities in the region. Current clinical sites are in Canandaigua, Carthage, Cortland, Elmira, Geneva, Oneida, Saranac Lake and Utica.
Filling the need for primary care providers in medically underserved and regional communities in Upstate New York is the mission of Upstate's PA master's degree program.
"One of the greatest attributes of the PA profession to be able to provide care to people who don't have easy access to the medical centers in bigger cities," Deuel said.
The PA profession is also one of the fastest growing health care careers. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, the number of PAs has grown from 43,000 in 2001 to more than 73,000 in 2009.
Deuel can't wait to get started on her clinical rotations later this year, working under the supervision of practicing physicians in the region. "You get to assist in surgeries, and you get that real individual attention," she said.