McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

First physician assistants graduate

Published: November 19, 2010
John Cunington with 2010 phsyician assistant education program graduating class
Assistant dean of the PA program John Cunnington, on left, with the first graduating class of physician assistants which includes: Nancy Aza, Rachael Bonisteel, Kristen Burrows, Genniene Di Berardo, Ohood Elzibak, Jacqueline Harden, Karen Humphries, Sung Hoon Kim, Megan Leavitt, Kathleen MacFarlane, Van Nguyen, Jodi Pachal, Michael Peirone, Nathalie Riaboy, Donna-Marie Rusenstrom, Ni Shen, Emily Sokolov, Leslie St. Jacques, Maureen Taylor, Lauren Wigman, Carly Yealland [View Larger Image]

A new class of health professionals are working in hospitals and family practices across the province following the completion of their training through McMaster University’s physician assistant education program.

Twenty-one graduates will receive their Bachelor of Health Sciences (Physician Assistant) degree during convocation ceremonies on Nov. 19. The new breed of health-care workers, who work directly under the supervision of a physician, are now employed in range of specialties including emergency medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, critical care and orthopedic surgery.

"Our physician assistant graduates are exceptional ambassadors of this new profession," said John Cunnington, assistant dean of the physician assistant program. "Through their commitment to excellence and collaborative care, they have positioned themselves as essential members of today’s interprofessional health-care teams. Their McMaster foundation in problem-based, small-group learning will serve them well as they move forward in their careers."

Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Deb Matthews congratulated the McMaster PA graduates: "The physician assistant role is one of several new roles we have introduced as part of our government’s collaborative Health Human Resources Strategy. I’m pleased to support today's graduates and look forward to further expanding this valuable patient care role."

Mark MacLeod, president of the Ontario Medical Association, commended the introduction of the new PA role and the impact it will have on health care: "PAs are valuable contributors to our health care system because Ontario’s doctors know that when all health care providers work together, patients benefit from an enhanced level of care."

Ohood Elizaback examiness patient Susan Schiff
Physician assistant student Ohood Elzibak examines patient Susan Schiff's arm in the fracture clinic at Hamilton General Hospital

Ohood Elzibak, a 23-year-old Hamiltonian and McMaster alumna, was drawn to the PA program out of her desire to work in a clinical setting and pioneer a new role in health care.

"I felt very confident going down this route," she said. "I felt like this was the right role for me, and I knew I needed to explore that.

"It’s been a phenomenal two years. You develop a really close relationship with your classmates, the facilitators and the staff. We were all in this together. It was a new experience for everyone."

During her clerkship year, Elzibak discovered a passion for the intense, fast-paced operating room environment during a two-month rotation with Dr. Ivan Wong, an orthopedic surgeon at Hamilton Health Sciences. Elzibak was hired by Wong as the first physician assistant member of his surgical team.

Wong, an assistant professor of surgery at McMaster, had previously worked with PAs during his fellowship training in the United States. Physician assistants have been part of the U.S. health-care system since the 1960s. In Canada, the emerging health-care workers are employed by the Canadian Forces, and through a demonstration project in Ontario. They also train at the University of Manitoba, which graduated its own inaugural class of physician assistants this year.

"In the future, I see just about every orthopedic surgeon working with PAs, and sometimes multiple ones," Wong said. "In the United States, it’s already been shown many times that PAs improve the cost-effectiveness of practice, increase patient care as well as patient satisfaction."

Physician assistants are health-care professionals who work under the supervision of doctors to provide care. PAs take histories, conduct physical examinations, order and interpret tests, diagnose and treat illnesses, counsel on preventive health care and may assist in surgery, depending on the specialty of their supervising physician. A PA's practice may also include education, research and administration.

Launched in September 2008, McMaster’s consecutive 24-month PA program was founded upon the problem-based learning model of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine. The first year of study focuses on the clinical sciences supporting health-care delivery. In the second year, PA students rotate through clinical placements.

The inaugural physician assistant class of 21 students was selected from a pool of more than 250 applicants. The graduates come from diverse backgrounds including paramedic practice, social work, genetics, epidemiology, journalism and engineering.


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