Dr. Linda Sekhon leans forward in her white coat and barely takes a breath between sentences when she talks about the new PA program, launched just last week.
She loves to teach and make the golden moments happen for students – the ones when they really “get it.” It happened for her after she gave a class presentation as an undergraduate.
“My professor said to me, ‘This is exactly where you need to be, in front of a classroom.’”
She was a first generation college student. Her father worked in maintenance and had been a paratrooper in the Korean War; her mother was a homemaker. They raised her well, but the professor’s words catapulted her belief in herself to be something no one in her family had ever been.
And so began the road to her own physician assistant career, the one that eventually led her to build High Point University’s first Physician Assistant Program.
“Knowing that in a small way I have succeeded in helping a student identify their passion for the PA profession, and provided them with an avenue to impact humanity in a significant way, is my definition of doing what you love,” Sekhon says.
A Roadmap for Success
Before coming to HPU in 2012, Sekhon helped create PA curriculums at Chatham University and Seton Hill University, and taught PA classes at the highly-respected Duquesne University. Through those experiences, Sekhon developed a skill set that made her realize not only what health care professionals need to excel in the 21st century, but that she was ready to craft a program to do just that from the ground up.
She was ready to lead the charge.
Sekhon came to HPU in 2012 with a vision and a mission to lay the groundwork for a new Physician Assistant Studies curriculum and department. She hired new faculty, designed core course objectives, created partnerships with local providers, and implemented state-of-the-art technology in learning labs. She and her team spent months with a whiteboard, Post-it notes and lots of ideas to implement Problem-Based Learning in the classroom.
“We need to prepare health care providers for what the world is going to be,” Sekhon says.
The curriculum they drafted was extensive – a 15-month didactic phase and a 12-month clinical phase. But HPU saw what the investment in time, energy and resources would do: provide better health care for people in North Carolina as well as nationwide.
More than 800 applications were received for the first cohort of students. Only 20 made it through, and even hundreds more applicants are expected for next year’s cohort.
“With 20 students in our first two cohorts, this provides true opportunities for mentorship and hands-on learning,” she says.
The Department of Physician Assistant Studies is currently next to the Department of Physical Therapy and its Human Biomechanics and Physiology Lab. The two departments will move to the $85 million School of Health Sciences building upon completion in 2017.
Two medical simulation labs in the current PA facility feature leading technology with four high-fidelity, wireless mannequins, one of which gives birth to a simulated baby. The department also includes three patient exam rooms for working with live patients, rooms to facilitate problem-based learning, and a clinical skills lab for demonstration and practice of medical techniques.
Sekhon says the facility and faculty in place rival top PA programs around the country.
Together, her team of faculty and administrators have built relationships with the Piedmont Triad’s large population of physicians and health care providers surrounding the university. Newly-formed partnerships ensure PA students have access to clinical rotation sites and experiential learning opportunities in close proximity to their campus. Fifty-three percent of clinical sites are within 5 miles of campus, while 97 percent of clinical sites are within 25 miles.
An advisory board composed of local health care leaders also ensures that students graduate with a well-informed view of the industry and provide network connections for employment.
Health Care Careers of Tomorrow
A quote that lines the halls of the PA space sets the tone for this first class, and all those that will follow: “It’s about the people we serve. Your patients are as valuable as family. Remember this is a calling as much as it is a profession.’’
“I believe in that,” Sekhon says. “I want them to remember what that is – that a patient is a valuable as a member of your family. It means something. I want people who come here to feel that.’’
HPU’s first-ever PA students received their white coats at the inaugural White Coat Ceremony on June 7. It served as their rite of passage into the PA profession and marked the start of a lifelong journey. These students will graduate at the 50th anniversary of the PA profession in 2017, and many of them will go on to pursue careers at the same local hospitals and medical systems where they completed their clinical rotations, as well as health care systems around the world.
Sekhon says that the immense growth in the last 40 years of the PA occupation makes this an exciting time to chair the new department at HPU. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for PAs is projected to grow 38 percent by 2022 – much faster than the average for all occupations.
The future is bright for the Physician Assistant Studies program.
And the future is bright at HPU.