First Class of CSS Physician Assistants Graduate, Take Jobs in Rural Areas

28 PAs graduate from St. Scholastica's program.

DULUTH, Minn.- As many college students across the country are celebrating the start of a new school year, these 28 College of St. Scholastica students are celebrating the end of their educational journey.

After two years the 28 white-coated students are done being students as they transition to become the first physician assistants out of the College of St. Scholastica.

“There’s a certain student who’s willing to take on a new program with us,” said Program Director Dr. Kim Kruger. “They are people who are pioneers; they are people who are willing to take risks at the betterment of their communities, of themselves, of medicine for patients.”

Physician assistants are medical professionals who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as a patient’s principal healthcare provider, according to the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

From the podium, the speaker beams at the 28 seated graduates: “We can’t wait to see what you do.”

“Even more importantly it’s a really special day for healthcare in the Northland,” Dr. Kruger said. “Having PAs added to our community of providers is gonna make a huge difference in access to medical care.”

These students were encouraged to get jobs in rural areas in the Northland. For many of them, that’s just a trip back home.

“Patrick Nelson,” Kruger calls from her podium.

“I was raised in Grand Rapids Minnesota, not too far from here about an hour and a half and I think a lot of us students were also raised in smaller communities,” said Graduate Patrick Nelson.

“I’m going back to Grand Rapids Minnesota to work at Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital.”

Nelson will work at the same place as a member of his own family.

“Actually my wife has just finished her training for family practice, with OB training, obstetrics. So we’re gonna start basically the same time.”

The goal of this year was to have 50% of the graduating class get jobs in rural communities.

As of today, 18 of the 28 PA students are doing so.

Being a PA in a small town benefits both the PA, and the community.

“Feeling like you’re a part of your community, have a little bit more responsibility for the patient,” Nelson said.

“And for me that’s what attracted me to go back to a smaller community, feel like you know people.”

The journey to graduation has helped the college as well.

“When we started this program we had no established sites for students to experience and practice medicine as a student,” Dr. Kruger said.

The 28 students had to make first-time connections to medical facilities to practice on-site during their second year.

“And have helped us lay the groundwork for a huge network of clinical sites that will accept students, accept PA students for training and that is really an important structure that we need to have as we continue to grow the program,” said Kruger.

As they go off into their new rural workspaces, the system that brought them to this point has full confidence in their new alumni.

“You have been given many gifts and many blessings in your life” Dr. Kruger said.

“Now is the opportunity to turn around and start giving that back to the world.”

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