News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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January 21, 2013

Students graduate as physician assistants

ISU’s ‘white coat ceremony’ welcomes grads to profession

TERRE HAUTE — A stream of white coats will flow into the professional world following a Sunday afternoon graduation ceremony.

The Indiana State University College of Nursing, Health and Human services graduated 29 master’s students with degrees in physician assistant studies inside University Hall on Sunday. In its second year, the program’s “white coat ceremony” calls for a donning of professional garb to symbolize the passage from classroom and laboratory learning to a forthcoming 15-month program of clinical rounds.

Heather Mata, director of the program, noted the graduation ceremony represented a significant amount of accomplishment to date.

“I think when we told them at the beginning how hard this would be, they thought we were just saying that,” she joked from the podium.

Dean Biff Williams said this class, the program’s second, represents a long and fruitful discussion concerning the health care needs of Indiana. In 2007, ISU made “a very bold move” to create a number of professional programs specifically for the health-care field.

A workforce analysis revealed that Indiana ranked 49th in terms of physician’s assistants based on population, and so that specialty was chosen as one void that ISU could help fill.

“The physician assistant program was very much needed,” Williams said, noting the state rankings in that category have been creeping up ever since, and programs such as the one at ISU are hoped to help in rapid fashion.

Christopher Roman, a physician’s assistant who practices in Indianapolis and who has served as a professional mentor to the class, returned to offer a keynote address. Their graduation, he said, marks the beginning of a new life.

“It is a beginning. Patients will look at you differently, and you’ll start to look at yourself differently,” he said.

Referencing the line in their oath that states, “I will hold as my primary responsibility the health, safety, welfare and dignity of all human beings,” he advised that they keep that high in their daily priorities and allow it to drive their career.

“It’s always harder to be the patient than the doctor or the physician’s assistant, the person providing the care,” he said.

Patients respond to providers who treat them as individuals, he said, noting the number of Christmas cards they’ll get in years to come.

“They don’t say ‘thank you’ for being an astute clinician. They say ‘thanks for caring about me,’” he said.

Krista Irwin, a 2010 graduate of Butler University, won the class “Future of the Profession” award, which was based on votes of her peers.

Irwin said in addition to a fascination with the human body and its processes, she really wants to help patients.

“I’ve always wanted to take care of people,” she said. “I love being with people. Anything I can do to make their lives better.”

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or


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