PA Class of 2020 is ready to make a difference

Grace Chang, Ethan Pace
PA Class of 2020 graduates Grace Chang (left) and Ethan Pace.

The OHSU Physician Assistant Program graduated its 24th class on Wednesday, September 2, 2020, at its first-ever, virtual graduation ceremony. 

The PA Class of 2020 included 43 graduates - all of whom were in attendance to receive their degrees and white coats. Family and friends participated in the ceremony by helping graduates don their long white coats as a symbol of their entry into the physician assistant profession. The evening was shared and enjoyed by family, friends, faculty and clinical preceptors from the community.

The commencement address was given by Morgan Hakki, M.D., associate professor of medicine and vice chair of clinical programs in the Department of Medicine, OHSU School of Medicine. An infectious disease specialist, Dr. Hakki trained at the Temple University School of Medicine, completed residency training at the University of Michigan and fellowship at the University of Washington. Dr. Hakki serves as director of Outpatient Infectious Diseases Clinic and pursues a research agenda of infections in immunocompromised patients.

The program’s new director, Dr. Chris Sim, who joined the program in January, awarded his first ever Director’s Awards to Renee K. Dversdal, M.D., FACP, and Christine M. Schutzer B.S., RDMS.

“Dr. Dversdal and Mrs. Schutzer have been important contributors to the mission of the PA Program,” said Dr. Sim. “In addition to their commitment to educating our students in a new modality, they are dedicated to improving the access to advanced care by rural Oregonians. They are involved in a grant training our students to perform Point of Care Ultrasound in our rural training sites-helping introduce this technology into those settings.”

The program recognized Christopher Benjamin, OHSU PA Class of 2013, as the Karen Whitaker Knapp awardee for 2020. The Karen Whitaker Knapp award is given each year in recognition of physician assistants whose clinical careers reflect a commitment to the rural and medically underserved communities of Oregon. Benjamin works at Adventist Health in Tillamook, Oregon.

Three OHSU faculty members were presented with the Excellence in Academic Teaching award: Sonam Kiwalkar, M.D., Lillian Navarro-Reynolds, MS, PA-C, Ali S. Olyaei, PharmD.

The James M. Ryan, M.D., Memorial Award for Excellence in Clinical Teaching was awarded to community preceptor Brian Mills, MPAS, PA-C, OHSU PA Class of 2014.

Student awards went to for Ashleigh Dietz and Greta Mae Hoffman for outstanding academic achievement,  Ethan Pace for excellence in the clinical year, Michael James Peterson for demonstrating a high level of professionalism throughout the program, and Raquel Padilla Moore for her outstanding record of service to her peers, the program and the profession.

The ceremony concluded with remarks from PA Class of 2020 student, Kelsey Khaw, and a video retrospective, sharing highlights from the students’ time in the program. The class also shared a message:

“We expected a hectic, unpredictable couple of years, and we were told from the beginning to be flexible. But we never expected to graduate in the midst of a pandemic and an international movement for Black lives. These events have led us to reflect on what it means to be physician assistants. We, as a collective, firmly believe Black Lives Matter. We assert that anti-racism should be the standard of care and a key principle for us all. To begin to honor that statement, we made a donation in our class name to the North by Northeast Community Health Center, a clinic dedicated to serving the health needs of the Black and African-American community in Portland through health promotion and disease prevention. We commit to continue the work of dismantling systemic racism, starting with healthcare disparities. As PAs, we pledge to uphold the OHSU PA program mission to serve marginalized and medically underserved patients within our respective communities.”

The program faculty and staff are proud of the class accomplishments and wish the graduates well in their upcoming careers.

The PA Class of 2020 is ready to make a difference.

Ethan Pace always dreamed of getting back to the lifestyle of his youth in Klamath Falls, hunting, fishing, hiking and camping and being able to give back to a community like the one he grew up in. He is thrilled to have landed a position at Hematology Oncology Associates PC in Medford and Grants Pass.

"Hematology/oncology is ever changing, which makes it such a challenging field to practice in, and I feel this field gives me the greatest opportunity to make a difference in patient’s lives," Pace said. "I am very fortunate to have trained under such incredible providers and at such a well-respected institution and my hope is to put all that I have learned and experienced over the past two years into clinical practice as I work to become the best PA I possibly can."

Pace, who is an Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) Scholar and earned the PA Program's Excellence in the Clinical Year Award, celebrated his virtual graduation with his girlfriend, who graduated from the OHSU School of Nursing this year, from their new home in Medford. Family and friends joined online because, as Pace said, the accomplishment "was as much theirs as it was mine."

Grace Chang kept right on making an impact even the day after graduation. As Diversity and Inclusion Class Representative, she teamed up that next morning with OHSU Center for Diversity and Inclusion unconscious bias trainers Crystal Roberts, Octaviano Merecias-Cuevas, and Rebecca Sutton-Kanyakoto to put on a session for students on anti-racist practices in clinical settings.

"Along with many of my classmates, I realized there was a significant opportunity to improve our exposure and engagement in dismantling systemic racism, recognizing unconscious biases, and practicing cultural humility, especially now when we need to maintain momentum for change to happen," Chang said. "While our program introduced us to this topic earlier, I felt we could benefit even further if we devoted more time, including group discussion around specific clinical scenarios."

While at OHSU, Chang joined the student-led collaborative Student Alliance for Integrative Medicine, part of the Oregon Collaborative for Integrative Medicine, and partnered on events with students from the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) and Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM). Now she hopes to be a part of a multi-disciplinary, integrated community healthcare delivery system to address the social determinants of health.  She offered a call out to her family who joined her online to celebrate her graduation.