Each year Tosi Gilford, MD, PA-C, director of the Physician Assistant (PA) Studies program, shares a special message with her students in honor of National Physician Assistant Week, “Being a PA is more than a profession…it is a calling; it is a lifestyle.” 

Several students in the Department of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences’ PA program took that message to heart and commemorated the week by volunteering at Bessemer City Schools. Led by Gilford, the educational efforts of the PA students expose future healthcare providers to the diversity and importance of physician assistants and the compassion and care that are part and parcel of the health profession. 

Students kicked off the annual celebration held Oct. 6-12 at Bessemer City Middle School, where they shared the meaning of being a PA and demonstrated some of their surgical skills through knot-tying workshops with the middle schoolers.  

“I loved seeing the students master surgical knots in less than 15 minutes,” said Jalpa Patel, PA-S. “They were so determined to learn and perfect it no matter how many times they failed. Their perseverance and desire to learn were admirable.” 

The service events supported the Physician Assistant Education Assistance (PAEA) Project Access program that aims to encourage middle school and high school students to consider the PA profession as a career. While volunteering with the middle schoolers, the PA students shared their advice on being a successful student and the opportunities higher education presents.

“This experience gave us a chance to expose them to such a wonderful career and remind them that they too can be part of it or any career that they dream of,” said Daniel Saltares, PA-S. “Part of being a PA for me means giving back to communities that are in need and educating others about the profession itself, while advocating for my future patients and increasing diversity within healthcare." 

The second part of the service project was held at Bessemer City High School the following Friday. With the help of Dina DeMarco, PA-C, faculty within the PA program, Gilford and student volunteers led the high schoolers through hands-on physical activities, including incision and drainage of an abscess, suturing, and some manipulative and dexterity challenges for laparoscopic training. 

Through their passionate dedication and service, Gilford and the PA program faculty and students were awarded special recognition in the PAEA Project Access competition.  

“As program director, I hope to encourage and inspire students to make a difference in the lives of others, while promoting our profession and being a role model to those who have yet to understand what a PA is,” said Gilford. “Our priority is to develop compassionate providers that understand the impact they will have on the lives of their patients and the responsibilities that come with being a healthcare provider. Ultimately, our responsibility to the communities in which we serve spans well past the walls of our clinical practice.”