Bay Path College’s Inaugural Class of Physician Assistant Studies Graduates Plans to Serve the Region, and Beyond
LONGMEADOW—Out of a dense stack of 500 applications for her first-ever class of Physician Assistant Studies master’s degree candidates, Bay Path College’s Jen Hixon knew she had her work cut out for her in deciding who would make one of the 24 openings.
Hixon is the Program Director for the Master of Science Physician Assistant Studies (MSPA) at Bay Path. On the eve of the inaugural MSPA graduation celebration, May 8, 2014, she reflected on how these students have hit every mark she and the College had expected.
Years ago as the MSPA was under construction, Bay Path invited 150 regional medical professionals—from doctors and hospital administrators to lawyers, patient care specialists, and physician assistants themselves—to diagnose the state of medicine in western New England.
“Bay Path’s interest was to address the desperate situation we have in this region,” Hixon explained. “We have the worst health care statistics in the state and limited accessibility for patients to see providers.”
The Bay Path MSPA focuses on the need to train the next generation of medical professionals who will respond to our region’s healthcare needs. This year’s graduates comprise standout individuals who are poised to become area healthcare providers.
Among those graduates is Brian Puchalski. Prior to entering the MSPA, he was a physical therapist for the St. Louis Cardinals. With a bachelor’s degree from Springfield College, he knew that he wanted to return to this area to enter medicine. To address our area’s need for accessible healthcare, he’s stepping up to the plate.
Also expressing the sentiment to stay local is Jacqueline Harris. As a resident of the rural town of Huntington, Mass. she sees the impacts of underserved medical populations. Prior to joining the Bay Path MSPA, she was a non-medical assistant at Cooley-Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. But now, she is becoming a healthcare provider.
Richard Fissette, Jr. was trained to be an Army medic, and he served in two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. He was employed by the U.S. Department of State as a medical instructor in their High Threat program. Yet he considers his MSPA one of his greatest achievements.
Echoing that is Thomas Kwapien from Westfield, Mass., president of the graduating class. He returned to higher education after 26 years, in that time becoming a respiratory therapist. On his becoming a PA, however, he said that he and his classmates have been molded into medical professionals.
Of the graduating class, Hixon said they have all distinguished themselves, both academically and in their service to the community. “Not only in western New England,” she said. “But to the field of physician assistants—they lobbied at the Massachusetts State House.”
Even beyond that, she added, is their collective character. “They have grown up in this program,” she said. “The strength of this program truly does lie with their becoming part of a solution here in our community.”