Paying it Forward

A Call to Physician Assistant Alumni

by Heather S. Dorman, clinical director, physician assistant program. Photos by Cindy Davis Meixel.

Clinical preceptors are an unparalleled commodity to physician assistant education. Offering their medical expertise and guidance to students, clinical preceptors make a genuine impact on the profession by ensuring that future clinicians are skilled, competent and compassionate. But despite the magnitude of their role in physician assistant education, quality clinical preceptors are becoming increasingly difficult to recruit.

“We can all remember and appreciate educators and clinicians who really took the time to help guide our developing careers.”

In 2008, the Association of American Medical Colleges composed a projection of where health-care supply and demand may stand in the future. The report, titled “The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections Through 2025,” noted that the physician assistant profession has grown at a faster rate than that of physicians – increasing more than 2 percent per year. The report predicts that the baseline demand for physician assistants will likely continue growing at this rate, leading to a projected 46-percent increase by 2025.

On the surface, this is good news for the PA profession, and with society’s need for health-care reform, there is a degree of comfort in knowing we are part of a thriving profession that has the ability to limit health-care shortages that are predicted for the future.

But despite the ability of the physician assistant profession to impact the health-care shortage needs, we must, in turn, acknowledge the fact that this would necessitate a nearly twofold expansion in graduates. According to a recent Physician Assistant Education Association survey, “While a majority of programs are willing to consider expanding their enrollments, limited clinical training sites and preceptors was the most significant barrier to PA program expansion.”

This is where physician assistant alumni can help. Nationwide, the PAEA is working with the American Association of Physician Assistants to tackle one of the most important issues facing the PA profession: the shortage of preceptors and clinical sites affecting PA programs in many parts of the country. The theme of the initiative is “Pay it Forward,” the concept being that all PAs can use their knowledge and experience to help pave the way for the next generation and thus help propel the profession forward. On a more local level, we are proud to say that some Penn College alumni are already paying it forward.

Christian Androvette, ’99, is the chief physician assistant at the Williamsport Hospital and Medical Center Emergency Department. Androvette has worked expansively with the program, serving on its advisory committee and participating in situational exams for senior students. By far, though, Androvette’s greatest contribution has been that of serving as a clinical preceptor.

“Without a doubt, the key to my professional success was directly related to those who helped develop my career both academically and professionally,” Androvette said. “I feel it is essential as a practicing PA to, at some point, give back to the profession and honor those who created the opportunities for us.”

Alumna Mitzi Miller, '09

Alumna Mitzi Miller, '09, the first physician assistant to work in the Jersey Shore Hospital Emergency Department, took inspiration from Androvette’s interactions with patients during her senior-year clinical rotation. She is helping to establish an urgent care center for Jersey Shore Hospital Urgent Care at McElhattan.

Each year, Androvette takes a few students under his wing at the Emergency Department, offering his clinical expertise, insight and guidance. “It is definitely a ‘pay it forward’ philosophy. We can all remember and appreciate educators and clinicians who really took the time to help guide our developing careers. Utilizing physician assistant students at our site gives us the ability to be part of the educational process from the clinical viewpoint. We are able to give feedback directly to Penn College in an effort to maximize the student’s clinical experience.”

Alumni like Androvette play a fundamental role in the program by serving as a bridge between didactic knowledge and the development of clinical decision-making skills. Additionally, the process allows students to interact with potential employers and future colleagues.

“Integration of the student allows an avenue for professional networking that benefits our hospital and department for potential future employment,” Androvette said. “It is very rewarding helping students during the clinical phase of their education and, upon graduation and employment, witnessing their transformation from students to colleagues within our medical community.”

Androvette’s guidance as a preceptor also inspired Mitzi Miller, ’09, who became the first physician assistant to work in the Jersey Shore Hospital Emergency Department.

“When Christian was my preceptor, I felt that the thing that set him apart from everyone else was his ability to think globally,” Miller said. “I feel that his past experience, as both a paramedic and a PA, has taught him to look at medicine differently. He is always up front with his patients, and very down to earth. He seems to have this natural ability to take complicated topics and truly educate his patients – to really talk to them at their level of understanding. He taught me how to put things into perspective – to do what’s cost-effective for my patients and to determine what’s best for each individual patient. Watching him, I knew I wanted to do that – I knew I wanted to be like that!”

Miller is an inspiring addition to the Penn College PA program alumni and a potential preceptor in the years to come.

“I’m definitely interested in being a preceptor in the future,” she said. “I learned so much hands-on knowledge when I was a student. I want to give that back to someone else.” ■

How Alumni Can ‘Pay it Forward’

The physician assistant program at Pennsylvania College of Technology would like to hear from those considering serving as a clinical preceptor.

In addition to contributing to the profession, preceptors are provided with the following annual amenities:

  • One free, noncredit course offered through Workforce Development & Continuing Education, with a value up to $250
  • A 50-percent tuition reduction on a credit course (up to three credits; books and lab fees are not included)
  • A $25 gift certificate to The College Store
  • Category II CME (Continuing Medical Education) hours
  • Madigan Library membership, with on-campus access to most databases to which the library subscribes, the ability to check out print and nonprint media, and unlimited access to one of six members-only computers

For more information, contact: Heather S. Dorman, clinical director, at or 570-327-4779; or Paula Holmes, program coordinator, at or 570-327-4779.