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As demand continues to grow for physician assistants in the medical field, Dominican graduated its first cohort class of 23 from the competitive MS Physician Assistant Studies (MSPAS) program. More than half of the class have jobs lined up, with others landing interviews at medical centers and private practices throughout California and the West.

The program launched in 2017 at a time when employment of PAs was projected to increase by 30 percent from 2014 to 2024. Demand continues to grow for both PAs and spots in the Dominican program.

Now Dominican has approximately 1,500 applicants each year vying for about 30-40 seats in the 28-month program.

“We created the MSPAS program to help bridge a major gap in healthcare providers to serve the needs of the community, specifically the medically underserved population,” says Program Director Carl Garrubba. “With our first graduating class, we are realizing our goal of placing competent, empathetic medical providers into the healthcare realm.”

One of the cohort members is class president Julie Blanchard. She believes the MSPAS program came along at the right time in the right place for her and for others in her class.

“Dominican has created a unique program that is focused on preparing students to become compassionate providers with an emphasis on interpersonal growth,” Julie says.

Julie completed her undergraduate degree in Animal Science at the University of Vermont. Following graduation, she accepted a summer veterinary internship in equine research at Cornell University.

Shortly thereafter, her boyfriend, (and now fiancé) decided to move back to California. She was excited to become “a California girl.” Realizing she wanted to switch to human medicine, the time was right for her to start a new career.

Julie began working as a medical manager at Marin ENT. She also pursued an internship in pediatric neurosurgery at Kaiser and shadowed numerous medical providers, ranging from PAs, NPs, MDs. She realized that being a PA best aligned with her career goals. As the daughter of a nurse, Julie always knew that practicing medicine was her goal, but it became clear that PA was the right fit for her.

“PA is the booming career, it’s a growing niche in medicine. Forbes magazine put it as one of the top three jobs in terms of growth in the country,” Julie says. There is a need that hospitals and large organizations are recognizing it, and beginning to really understand how to best utilize PAs.”

The timing aligned with the new MSPAS program in the School of Health and Natural Sciences. To transition her learning skills from animal science to the human anatomy, Julie took classes at a community school then applied to Dominican. This entered her into the competitive application and interview process after which she was accepted into the first class. The following August, the program began, and she immediately connected with faculty and her cohorts who elected her class president.

“I love this school and this program. From the professors, the campus and the small liberal arts community, it’s a great place for an education,” she says. “With regards to our PA program, they respect our voice as students. The faculty has been phenomenal. We are very fortunate for our faculty who truly care about us.”

Julie and her cohorts dedicated over two years of their lives to get their Master’s Degrees.

“There is true, special connection between us and the program,” Julie says. “The program is invested in us, especially as the first class, and soon we will be colleagues. We have a special bond.”

A few select MSPAS students – including Julie, Audrey Schneider Hawes and Jacqueline Hunter – have been inducted into Pi Alpha, the national Physician Assistant honor society organized for the promotion and recognition of both PA students and graduates. Audrey earned her undergraduate degree in Biological Anthropology from UC Davis. Jaqueline’s earned her BS in Human Biology from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

They are representative of an impressive cohort class that has relished their time in the MSPAS program.

“Every time I come to campus and see our staff and students, I feel so lucky that I chose this school and that they chose me. I feel very fortunate to embark on my PA profession knowing my foundation started here,” Julie says. “This PA family is made up of pretty incredible people, and I will be forever grateful for my time here, and what I have learned from my cohort and professors along the way.”

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