Joining the Mary Baldwin student body this spring semester is a cohort of graduate students in the Master of Science in Physician Assistant program, the newest area of study at Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences.

A White Coat Ceremony was held to honor the start of Mary Baldwin University's inaugural Physician Assistant program at the Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences in Fishersville, Va., Saturday Jan. 9, 2016. (Photo by Norm Shafer).

A White Coat Ceremony was held to honor the start of Mary Baldwin University’s inaugural Physician Assistant program at the Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences in Fishersville, Va., Saturday Jan. 9, 2016. (Photo by Norm Shafer).

Families and friends joined students at the Fishersville campus Saturday for a white coat ceremony, designed to welcome new medical students into the profession.

The 38 students began their studies on Jan. 4, boasting academic preparation that exceeded the national average for PA programs. The PA program fills a need in the region for additional medical providers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 38 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster that the average for all occupations.

“The white coat ceremony represents a new rite of passage, a transition for these PA students from the study of preclinical to clinical health science,” said Linda Seestedt-Stanford, vice president for health sciences. “In the words of Sir William Osler, ‘The practice of medicine is an art, not a trade; a calling, not a business.’ These students have answered that vocation.”

A White Coat Ceremony was held to honor the start of Mary Baldwin University's inaugural Physician Assistant program at the Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences in Fishersville, Va., Saturday Jan. 9, 2016. (Photo by Norm Shafer).

PA student Kevin Leaman celebrates with loved ones following Saturday’s white coat ceremony.

The PA program is the fourth program developed at the college of health sciences since its inception in 2012. PA students will join two cohorts of students who are pursuing doctoral degrees in physical therapy and occupational therapy as well as two classes of nurses earning their bachelor of science in nursing degree.

“All applicants must interview as part of the admissions process. During the interview, when asked ‘Why do you want to be a PA?” the common theme was a commitment to serve others,” said David Paulk, program director. “During their rigorous studies, it is this driving passion that will push them through, and eventually, graduate with a mission to serve our community.”

PAs practice and work on health care teams with physicians and other providers. The program embraces the team-based, collaborative, and interprofessional approach to patient care already in place at Murphy Deming.

To enrich this interprofessional approach, the new students will be visiting health care providers in the region as early as next week to shadow PAs, MDs, and other health care providers.

A White Coat Ceremony was held to honor the start of Mary Baldwin University's inaugural Physician Assistant program at the Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences in Fishersville, Va., Saturday Jan. 9, 2016. (Photo by Norm Shafer).

PA student Kelli Cash ’15 receives her white coat from Don Solimini, assistant professor and director of academic education for the master of science in physician assistant program at Mary Baldwin University’s Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences. Cash was the first student admitted to the new graduate program.

Among the entering class is Kelli Cash ’15 who earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Mary Baldwin University in May and was the first Mary Baldwin undergraduate admitted to the new program.

“Having experienced Mary Baldwin University’s undergraduate program, I feel connected to the vision, goals, and future of the [institution],” Cash said. “I love their continuing standards of excellence and desire to instill a need for all students to give back to their communities, making lasting differences in the lives of others.”