by Blake Stewart

For physician assistant (PA) students at Trevecca, the white coat ceremony is a milestone. Held each July, the celebration marks the culmination of the didactic phase, during which students undergo a rigorous 15-month classroom experience.

Being accepted to the program is a feat in itself, program officials say, with nearly 1,000 applicants every year and around 120 people interviewed to be considered for acceptance.

Once accepted, students spend five days a week in the classroom for more than eight hours a day, learning the complexities of medicine in a short period of time.

“The hardest thing about PA education is that we’re trying to learn the majority of medicine in those 15 months,” said Tasha Adams, assistant professor in the PA program. “The pace that we go and the amount of information that we throw at them is like nothing they have experienced before.”

For students, this process can be daunting: having to prioritize school, studying, family and friends along with a social life.

“Coming into it, the first semester is a shock to your system because you’re studying all the time,” said Alex Brown, a PA student. “Every hour of your day is scheduled around studying, so you are constantly having to say no to things like hanging out with friends and family or holidays to study.”

Lauren Prince, a fellow PA student agrees. “Didactic as a whole is like drinking out of a fire hose,” said Prince. “It’s a lot of information in a short amount of time, but I think the seeds are planted during didactic that really prepare you for the clinical phase.”

Founded in 1976, Trevecca’s PA program is the oldest in the state, employing highly trained medical professionals accompanied by innovative curriculum and a compassionate Christian approach.

“Academic rigor is an important component to producing compassionate practitioners"

“Academic rigor is an important component to producing compassionate practitioners prepared for 21st century medicine,” said Joy Twillie, academic director for the didactic phase.

While the program is challenging, faculty and staff are there every step of the way to encourage and prepare each student. “Academic rigor means challenging our students to do their very best and providing them with the support to do that,” Twillie said.

The demands on a medical provider are intense and complex—something PA students have to be prepared for when entering into their clinical rotations.

“I feel confident going into clinicals because we have a solid foundation in the didactic phase,” said Meredith Bratcher, PA student. “It’s intense to be learning medicine in 15 months, and they’ve done a good job of laying that foundation.”

Now more than 40 years old, Trevecca’s PA program has sent more than 1,000 graduates into the medical field. This summer, 53 students walked across the stage and donned their white coats. The rite of passage is symbolic as the students embark upon a new journey outside the classroom and head into the field.

Before graduating, these Trevecca PA students will spend 12 months completing eight clinical rotations alongside medical professionals across the country. Each rotation lasts six weeks and includes rotations in family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, surgery and more.

For Bratcher, who spent her first six-week rotation at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital studying pediatric hematology, the moment was surreal. Five years ago, Bratcher was a patient at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital herself, receiving a bone marrow transplant.

“I’m excited to be working alongside the doctor that once treated me and looking forward to going out and helping people feel better,” she said.