PA Alumni now number 255 as stellar students become exemplary educators

When the School of Physician Assistant Practice at the FSU College of Medicine welcomes its 60 newest students to campus in August, they will comprise the eighth PA class at Florida State University since the program admitted its first students in 2017.

PA Program Director Benjamin Smith
PA School Director Benjamin Smith, DMSc, PA-C, DFAAPA

“It’s an extension of the College of Medicine mission,” said Associate Professor Benjamin Smith, associate dean and director of the School of Physician Assistant Practice. “We teach compassionate, empathetic, expert care that is very patient-focused, with shared decision-making.”

A certified physician assistant himself who also holds a doctorate in medical sciences, Smith is one of the founding faculty of the school. He was hired shortly after the program was approved to help design it and served as served as interim school director for a year, earning the position permanently in early 2023.

The need for PAs is greater now than ever, particularly because they are crucial in addressing the looming shortage of physicians and other health care providers facing both Florida and the nation. PAs play a critical role as part of a health care team, diagnosing and treating illness as well as providing preventive and wellness care under the supervision of a physician.

According to a report by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the United States faces a projected shortage of up to 124,000 physicians in the next 10 years. Those who will feel the sting of lack of access to health care the most likely will be populations that are already underserved – rural communities, the elderly and racial and ethnic minorities.

In other words, the populations the FSU College of Medicine is committed to serve.

“We’re a young school, but our alumni ranks are growing,” Smith said. “We now have 255 alumni, most of whom are practicing in Florida.”

Another aspect of the college’s M.D. program that the PA program has incorporated is hiring program graduates as clerkship faculty once they’ve established themselves professionally. 

Holly Garza-Shaw
Holly Garza-Shaw, PA-C

“We now have 16 PA alumni who serve as faculty at our six regional campuses across the state,” Smith said. “Students spend their first 15 months at the central FSU campus, then their final 12 months of clinical rotations at one of the regional campuses.”

Holly Garza-Shaw, a member of the inaugural PA Class of 2019, did her clinical rotations at the Fort Pierce Regional Campus. She chose to work in psychiatry as her specialty, and she works one-on-one with each PA student – from the campus where she was trained – for six weeks at a time.

“I chose to become a preceptor to give back to my community and be available the way all my preceptors were for me,” she said. “FSU was the only choice, in my opinion, because of the structure of the program and the existing faculty.”

She enjoys working with students and seeing their transition from book work to clinical applications, especially “watching them find their confidence interacting with patients.”

Garza-Shaw encourages them not to be afraid to ask all the questions they can, even if they aren’t specific to the behavioral and mental health rotation. She is committed to their success.

Cali Wilson
Cali Wilson, PA-C

“I want my students to know that I’m in their corner,” she said, “know I’m there to help with anything they need.”

Cali Wilson (PA, 2021) specializes in surgery and works with students at the Pensacola Regional Campus, which is where she herself trained. She loves the eagerness her students have to learn and enjoys having educated discussions with them.

“Clinical rotations were an integral part of my education,” she said. “I want to leverage my position to invest in the students who will soon be colleagues, and I love that I can simultaneously give back to the school that got me here.

“I believe in FSU’s PA program, and I am honored to continue supporting this school.”

Ashley T. Clark (PA, 2021), who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology, also works with PA students at her old regional campus in Daytona Beach. She chose to become a preceptor to give back to the program and school that supported her throughout her PA journey.

“The experiences I had with my preceptors inspired me to want to provide similar experiences to the ones I had,” she said. “I enjoy sharing why I love being a PA. I like to pass on what I have learned and see them achieve their own goals.”

Ashley T. Clark
Ashley T. Clark, PA-C

As someone who tends to be shy, Clark wants her students to feel comfortable asking for help and asking questions.

“I would like my students to remember me as someone they can reach out to if they need help while in school, and even after they’ve graduated and are practicing PAs,” she said. “I want them to know that the FSU community is one who continue to support each other, even after graduation.”

Smith has a similar goal.

“We are a family,” he said. “We want to build our alumni base, build our strong and supportive preceptor base, build our brand recognition as an outstanding program, and further unify and keep the family together.”

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Spotlight photo on Home page:

Administrators, faculty and staff join the PA Class of 2023 on graduation day for a group portrait. (Photo by College of Medicine Creative Services)