By Autumn Mott, student writer
When his entire PA class passed their board certification exam on their first attempt, 2017 graduate Nicolas Kinkead credited Union College for giving him the training he needed to be successful.
“It’s one of those things that you try really hard to prepare for,” said Kinkead, referring to the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE), “I feel like Union did a good job of preparing me.”
The PANCE is the culmination of 33 months of postgraduate study. Passing the exam means a new PA can practice anywhere in the country. “We are quite proud of the 30 graduates in the class of 2017,” said Megan Heidtbrink, PA program director. “The students in our program are wonderful.”
For Kinkead, becoming a PA realized a dream that started at age 16 when he shadowed a PA at a military hospital. He was inspired when he saw the impact made by the PA in the lives of his patients. “Pretty much from then on, I said to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do with my life,’” he recalled.
The PA profession was created in 1965 when Duke University introduced a training course based on the fast-track training of doctors established by the military during World War II. Since then, physician assistants have increasingly gained responsibility and recognition. Now the term “assistant” hardly fits. Physician assistants do nearly everything a physician does—provide primary care, prescribe medications and even perform surgeries. One of the fastest growing careers in America, PAs are increasingly important in all areas of health care. They help physicians treat more patients, and they’re are able to take more time with patients—listening to their challenges and providing a greater level of care.
“Union’s PA program is special,” says Heidtbrink, “We approach health care from a Christian perspective, which not many PA programs do, and that sets us apart.” It was the Christian environment that attracted Kinkead. While he obtained his undergraduate degree in bio-technology from the University of Nebraska Omaha, Kinkead chose to attend Union because he felt the atmosphere would strengthen his faith.
A five-hour long ordeal, PANCE consists of 300 questions administered in five blocks. The exam covers anatomical and physiological aspects along with practical application and procedures. The national first-time pass rate in 2016 was 93 percent.
Union strives to connect its PA students with the local medical community. Between clinical rotations at various practices in the area, outreach events at a homeless clinic, to bringing in guest lecturers, the PA program allows students to build a network while still in school.
Kinkead currently works for Nebraska Pulmonary Specialties (NPS) in Lincoln. During his last year in the PA program, he did a rotation at NPS. At the conclusion of his rotation, he submitted his résumé and was hired shortly after. “I really liked that I was able to work with them for a month before accepting their offer,” says Kinkead, “Also, I had seen four of my supervising doctors lecture at Union.”
In the last few years, Union’s PA program has added four new courses, such as Medical Physiology and Medical Genetics, and an independent research project. Kinkead suspects those additional courses helped foster this year’s 100 percent pass rate.
The Union College Physician Assistant program focuses on four goals: professionalism, clinical relevance, academic excellence and responsible servanthood. “We’re trying to teach our students to be professionals with a healing ministry; to be good stewards of Christ as they’re practicing,” says Heidtbrink. “I think the 100 percent score illustrates the quality of our program and the quality of our students.”