Milestone PA Class of '23 will help address state's health-care provider shortage

Ben Smith, DMSc, PA-C, director of the PA program and associate dean, shared just how intense the training was for the graduates.

Saturday’s Commencement Ceremony for the College of Medicine’s School of Physician Assistant Practice marked a modest, but significant, milestone for the program. It is the fifth graduating class in the program’s history.

With the addition 58 PA Class of 2023 members into the health-care workforce, the program’s graduation count will exceed 250. With approximately 80% of the program’s graduates in its first four classes practicing in Florida – many in primary care specialties for minority and underserved populations – FSU is doing its part to curb a shortage of health-care providers in Florida.

Earlier this week, the Florida Hospital Association and Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida announced the state could be facing a doctor shortage of 18,000 by 2035. Physician assistants are trained and licensed to carry out many of the same essential tasks as doctors, and they are able to fill their roles more quickly than doctors.

At the completion of their intensive, 27-month education program, PA graduates can begin practice after passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam.    

That could be as soon as January for some who crossed the stage and were hooded Saturday at Opperman Music Hall.

“We have a lot to be proud of in our School of Physician Assistant Practice and you are a source of that pride today,” said College of Medicine Interim Dean Alma Littles, M.D., who presided over the ceremony. “This is a big deal and you have every right to be proud and to celebrate what you have accomplished.”

Monique Colley
Monique Colley

Monique Colley, a 37-year-old Army veteran, wife and mother of two, has been looking forward to serving as a PA since she was first introduced to the profession as a military lab specialist. There, she found her passion for serving underserved, military and lower socioeconomic populations.

“I’m really grateful and thankful to have come this far,” said Colley, who like many, was cheered on by family when her name was called. “I don’t think I would have without the faculty and staff, my classmates, my family and friends. It was a lot more intense than I anticipated, for sure, and having kids and a husband on top of that kind of intensified it.”

Ben Smith, DMSc, PA-C, director of the PA program and associate dean, shared just how intense the training was for the graduates.

“A summary review of your recently completed clinical years provides evidence of not only our commitment, but more importantly, yours,” Smith said, noting that over the past 11-plus months, the graduating class had documented more than 105,000 hours in clinical settings, an average of 1,800 per graduate.

Logan and Hannah Lipsch, who met in high school in the St. Petersburg suburb of Seminole and graduated from the University of South Florida together with their bachelor’s degrees, were accepted together at three PA programs.

“The mission of FSU – serving the underserved – really aligned with our values as people,” Hannah said. “When we got accepted to FSU, we just knew where we wanted to go. It was a perfect fit.”

Hannah and Logan Lipsch
Hannah and Logan Lipsch

They married just four months before arriving at FSU in August  2021. 

“We wanted to get married just prior to PA School so we could start our lives together and not stress about planning a wedding during PA school,” Hannah said. “It was definitely tough at the beginning, but I don’t think I could have gone through it without his [Logan’s] support. It set up such a strong foundation for our marriage… I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Having someone going through a similar process, it’s kind of hard to understand it unless you’re going through it, especially that first year and a half and the grind time of didactic, supporting each other having seven exams in a week,” Logan added.

They plan to practice in-state close to family and friends. Logan is eyeing a primary care specialty, while Hannah is exploring a couple of options.

Additional Coverage:

PA students, faculty and staff honored at graduation dinner / Watch the PA Class of 2023 Ceremony

PA Spotlights: Karen Post / Michaela Manias / Priscilla Yost / Molly B. Williams / Coelithia Sosa / Joey Schergen / Hermaley Lubin / Christy Hofman

PA graduate Brent Summers knows a bit about rural communities. He was born and raised in Palatka, Florida, and completed his undergraduate degree at Thomas University in Thomasville, Georgia.

He has a great appreciation for his rural roots and intends to serve that population.

Brent Summers
Brent Summers

“I really wouldn’t be where I am today without a lot of people in Palatka,” Summers said. “I really do think about it a lot – all of the different people who helped build my character and me as a person. It really helped me become a better person and a better man coming from a small town.”

The education he received at FSU further drove home that importance.

“It’s been tough; a lot of hard work,” Summers said, adding a special thanks to his wife, Baylee, who is expecting their first child. “It all boils down to the people you have around you, and I can’t thank my wife enough for everything she’s done. She’s also from Palatka. I would never be able to do this alone.

“The model FSU brings, really focusing on the rural aspect of medicine, is very beneficial and prepared me to go out into the workforce and be the best PA I can be. I can’t thank the faculty and staff enough for everything that they’ve done.”

PA Class of 2023 President Karen Post likened the past 27 months to a marathon in her reflections on the journey to the audience:

“This race of PA school required a great deal of perseverance and endurance. And through each good and bad thing that happened, whether it involved a personal relationship, a surgery or an ER visit, hating or loving a rotation, or trudging through just one more of our 103 exams, we did this.”

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