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The Pulse

  • 2021 NC PA Program Highlight | Elon University
    by Morgan Darrow, PA-S, Elon University

    Elon University’s 24-month, full-time Masters in Physician Assistant Studies program prepares graduates to think critically and act skillfully to meet expanding health care needs in local and global communities. Students immerse themselves in a curriculum structured around active learning strategies through collaborative work with Elon’s faculty, scholars and practitioners in the field. Students emerge in two years as graduates prepared to employ the most current knowledge to care for patients’ physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. The program seeks to fulfill the vision of “Learning. Caring. Serving. Leading.” in everything they do.

    Elon University’s Physician Assistant program is housed in the School of Health Science at the Gerald Francis Center along with the University’s Doctorate of Physical Therapy and the new Nursing Department.


    Elon’s innovative systems-organized curriculum employs large and small group discussion, hands-on clinical skills labs, simulated patient experiences, lecture and patient scenario discussions. The Class of 2021 recently completed their second “call-back” week dedicated to their professional development and participated in interactive case studies, OSCE’s, and informative group sessions during their time back at Elon. Students have participated in clinical sites throughout North Carolina, as well as the United States, including the Cleveland Clinic and Indian Health Services in Arizona. They are staying busy in their final three rotations as they also work to complete their master’s projects before graduation in December. The Class of 2022 is working diligently through their didactic year, which began in person in January. Originally, the class of 37 students was split into two classrooms to maintain social distancing. With a 97% vaccination rate at the end of May, the class was able to join together into one masked group!

    The Class of 2021 scrubbing in during Surgery skills lab in August.

    Elon continues to be diligent in masking, COVID testing, and social distancing. Students have worked through each of the body systems covering anatomy, pathophysiology, clinical medicine, pharmacology, and physical diagnosis. Following the completion of their anatomy module in July, students participated in a memorial ceremony for their “silent teachers”, the donors that gave to Elon’s Anatomical Gift program. August concluded units in emergency medicine and surgery where students became ACLS certified and practiced many skills including, but not limited to, suturing, intubation, lumbar puncture, I&D, and skin biopsy. Students also participated in an optional Wilderness Medicine day. They are beginning courses in Advanced Clinical Reasoning, Behavioral Medicine, Special Populations (including pediatrics and women’s health), and Master’s Project I. The Class of 2022 is eagerly looking forward to their White Coat Ceremony on November 19, at the end of their Fall I module.

    The faculty have been doing a lot of learning as well. All faculty have attended conferences and trainings related to values, inclusive classrooms, engaged learning, student wellness/personal wellness, and/or gender-affirming care.

    The Class of 2021 using practice based learning to walk through cardiac emergency cases.


    Students continue to care for each other, our community, and themselves during the challenges presented by the pandemic. In January, Elon’s School of Health Sciences began lunchtime “DiversiTEA” meetings. These meetings are organized by the SHS student DEI committee with support of the Office of Inclusive Excellence. During DiversiTEA, students enjoy interprofessional conversations and informational sessions that challenge their perspectives on topics related to health, health equity, inclusion in healthcare, and systemic race issues. Recent conversations have centered around LGBTQIA+ care, Juneteenth, and hair discrimination.

    In practicing caring- students have also joined with the Elon Doctor of Physical Therapy students in launching Elon Cares- a student-run video program that seeks to address physical, mental, and emotional health in homebound and isolated populations. Students produce biweekly episodes that air Thursday nights at 6:30 on its YouTube channel. Elon Cares works to provide opportunities of socialization and wellness to ensure equal opportunity of growth in a community-based atmosphere, creating episodes on topics ranging from exercise to mindfulness.

    Elon PA also works to show care in learning about and practicing wellness through the Co-Curricular Wellness initiative, led by PA Faculty and Staff (Dr. Thurnes and Ms. Stephanie Henderson). In August, faculty and students participated in Medical Pictionary, taking time to have fun together, build in community, and take a small break from busy schedules!

    Image from our August Diversi-Tea event. PhD student Camaron Loritts-Mungro discussed how this discrimination can be a hinderance to healthcare and led the School of Health Sciences in conversation.


    Both Class of 2021 and 2022 students continue to volunteer their time at Alamance County’s Open Door Clinic. Open Door offers free health care services with dignity, professionalism, and concern for the uninsured residents of Alamance County. The clinic is a non-profit organization that functions on fundraisers, donations, grants, and volunteers from the community. Students volunteer twice weekly, assisting in patient triage and workup. In serving their community, they also are able to practice professionalism and the skills they are learning in class each day. In the past month, the Class of 2022 has also volunteered with Habitat for Humanity on weekends, extending the outreach of Elon PA to the community.

    In the Spring, Elon PA students and faculty volunteered at COVID vaccine clinics across campus and the community and many faculty have also volunteered with COVID screening tests.

    Planning is in full swing for Elon PA’s annual Great Cape Escape. The Great Cape Escape is a 5/10/15K race benefits the Open Door Clinic; 100% of the proceeds from the race go directly to Open Door. In the past, the Great Cape Escape has been able to raise enough to cover the medications and equipment needed for every patient the Open Door Clinic sees in a year (about 500 patients). Running from September 18 to October 10, this year’s race will be virtual, allowing participants from all across North Carolina, and the world, to be a hero for Open Door.

    Elon PA’s annual Great Cape Escape benefiting the Alamance Open Door Clinic will be virtual this year! Sign up to be a hero for Open Door!


    This Spring, Elon PA Professor Alexis Moore secured a grant with The Village Project to launch a new initiative, Start Early in Medicine. The Village Project is a district-wide tutoring initiative spearheaded by the Center for Access and Success that works collaboratively with Elon tutors, Alamance county teachers, and principals to improve the academic attainment of elementary grade students in the 12 Title I schools from the surrounding community. Start Early in Medicine will partner with Alamance Community College’s Medical Bridge: Minority Males in Medicine middle/high school project. The initiative will begin this fall and provide an early pipeline to introduce middle schoolers to the PA and other health professions, explore social determinants of health, and provide opportunities for interdisciplinary activities related to health promotion. The Class of 2022, through their Underserved Populations course, will meet with students weekly and engage them in high yield, innovative lessons about two body systems: the eyes and ears.

    This fall, Class of 2021 (Dec) students will have an opportunity to present their master’s project research at a school of health sciences research day. The research day will include research from both PA and PT students.


    Faculty members Dr. Cindy Bennett and Dr. Melissa Murfin, along with the director of the Client and Standardized Patient Program Nita Skillman, launched a new research study about the COVID-19 vaccine and how long it grants immunity following vaccination. Elon students, faculty and staff that had not tested positive for COVID-19 received antibody testing prior to vaccination in March and have been receiving continued antibody testing each quarter.

    Doctors Bennett and Murfin also both received Elon Teaching grants to explore point of care ultrasound and pharmacogenetics, respectively. In the past year, Elon PA students have enjoyed learning about these passions. The Class of 2022 recently created a POCUS interest group which meets monthly to explore and practice different ultrasound skills. The Class of 2022 was also able to explore their own pharmacogenetics during their Pharmacology II course; in addition to their own testing they learned the impact this knowledge can have when treating patients.

    Dr. Bennett exploring the use of ultrasound in body painting in anatomy learning. Students partner to paint the anatomy they have been studying in cadaver lab and then ultrasound the anatomy they painted, coming into physical contact with the material three different times.

    Dr. Tracey Thurnes and Ms. Antoinette Polito were accepted to present a workshop related to Design Thinking at the International Association of Medical Science Educator’s annual conference this Fall. Dr. Thurnes also presented workshops this summer with Design Forge, Elon’s annual convening of design thinking educators, practitioners and thought leaders from around the world.

    Dr. Kim Stokes, along with collaborators Dr. Tiffany Morris from Elon Nursing, Dr. Paula DiBiasio from Elon PT, Ms. Nita Skillman from the SHS Interprofessional Simulation Center, and Dr. Lake Laosebikan-Buggs from the Elon Division of Inclusive Excellence, received a grant from the Elon Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning to explore means to create innovative interprofessional DEI education and opportunities for students in the School of Health Sciences.


    The School of Health Science’s faculty development program in June centered around gender affirming care.




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