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Game On: MS in Physician Assistant Studies Class of 2020 ‘Kicks Off’

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Bay Path University’s Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies Class of 2020 celebrated its official start last week, with the first day of classes, remarks from University leadership, and a photo shoot.

The cohort of 30 graduates represents seven different states including all of New England, with the majority of the class coming right from Massachusetts and Connecticut. They range in age from 21 – 45 years old, and tout an impressive average total overall GPA of 3.58.

Among this year’s talented students are professional athletes and Ivy League graduates Lauren Slebodnick G’20, Cornell University Class of 2014, BS in biology and society, ice hockey goalie; and Matt Girard G’20, Brown University Class of 2017, BS in health and human biology, right tackle—football. Meet these two members of the MS in Physician Assistant Studies Class of 2020 in this Q&A:

Why did you decide to attend Bay Path University?

Slebodnick: I moved to the area a few years ago, and Bay Path is in my backyard. While looking at local programs, I heard about Bay Path and it had an outstanding reputation amongst medical professionals and leadership. I started to look more seriously at the University. When I came for a tour, I got the feeling the program was very community-oriented, like a team. That resonated with me.

Girard: I grew up in Holyoke, and, like Lauren [Slebodnick], was interested in finding a solid PA program in the area. I’d been planning on taking a gap year after Brown, but when I came to an open house here, Theresa [Riethle, program director and associate professor for the physician assistant program] said I’d met the prerequisite requirements already and that I could apply anytime. I applied to a handful of programs, but here, it just feels like home. Students aren’t just another number.

What compels you to become a physician assistant?

Slebodnick: Growing up with a mother who’s a nurse, I’ve always been drawn to medicine. It's a field where you're constantly learning and interacting with others, and you're part of a medical team. The PA works with the physician, nurses, and medical group, as well as patients. At the same time, you have control and decision-making ability yourself. Overall, I feel that the profession fits my personality.

Girard: I agree. I think PAs have a thirst for knowledge like physicians do, but also need strong communication skills to bridge the gap between physicians, the rest of the medical team, and the patients. I feel I was made for that role. It’s important for me to be able to understand the way people interact with each other and, through effective communication, connect the dots. Also, I think people feel more relaxed with a PA, especially a PA who is just as smart as a doctor, just may not have the expertise that the doctor has acquired.

Tell me a little bit about your background in medicine.

Girard: My patient care experience came in the Holyoke Medical Center ER (Emergency Room). While I was enrolled at Brown, I got a job as a patient observer, and then took a higher-level position as patient care technician after graduation. I was able to grow in the organization and get experience doing EKGs, splints, and more, right under the supervision of a nurse.

Slebodnick: After graduation from Cornell, I worked as an EMT (emergency medical technician) in Hartford, Connecticut. Through that experience, I was able to gain great perspective about different positions in medicine, patient care needs, communication gaps and more. As an athlete, I was especially interested in emergency and orthopedic care, so I got some experience exploring two of my interests.

How does your experience as an athlete correlate to your future career as a physician assistant?

Slebodnick: Matt [Girard] and I both went to very challenging schools and had to balance rigorous schedules. Through that experience, you quickly learn important skills like teamwork, commitment, dedication, perseverance, and time management, as well as how to work with others and succeed. I played ice hockey at Cornell and then after graduation, played two years professionally with a women's hockey league. My whole life, I’ve been an athlete, so all of these things are really ingrained in me. The way we learned to succeed as athletes and students is going to help us in the PA profession and in life.

Girard: I would emphasize what Lauren said about how effectively athletes learn to work with others. Learning to get a job done with multiple personalities in the room will pay off in our studies and later in the profession. Also, as a college athlete, you have really long days. You get up at 6 am and lift, go to class, get out at 4 pm, run to practice, finish up late in the evening and then have to study. To become accustomed to a packed schedule like that, you have to be efficient and have a goal in mind, constantly prioritize your schedule towards accomplishing that goal, and ultimately get it done. That mindset and experience will serve us in every aspect of life.