CMU students bring national recognition to physician assistant program

A’lanne Conrad

Students in the physician assistance program at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction have earned national recognition for their efforts.

The PA student society at CMU received the American Academy of Physician Associates Outstanding Student Society Award.
The award is based on how student societies engage in public education and advocacy; public service and outreach; professional involvement; and diversity, equity and inclusion practices.

A’lanne Conrad, director of clinical education and assistant clinical professor of physician assistant studies at CMU, said the recognition reflects the success of a program that’s only four years old. “While the students of the class of 2024 received the award, they stand on the backs of the CMU PA students that came before them. They are continuing and establishing a proud legacy for CMU and for all Colorado PAs.”

Physician assistants work as part of collaborative medical teams. They receive national certification when they graduate and can work in any state if they also obtain state licensure.

“PAs can work in any medical field. They graduate as a generalist and can be utilized to help reduce access to health care gaps in all areas of the country,” Conrad said. “We have 13 graduates who work in the Grand Valley, and four of our graduates serve our rural communities along the I-70 corridor and in Montrose.”

At CMU, students go through 15 months of medical didactic education and 12 months of clinical rotations. Students volunteer in the community as part of their capstone projects as well as through the PA student society.

At a Special Olympics event at CMU, PA students provided health screenings and health education presentations to hundreds of athletes with intellectual disabilities. Athletes received mental health screenings along with tools to help manage anxiety and depression, podiatrist evaluations for issues affecting their feet, vision screenings and vision prescription assistance, bone density scans and nutrition and sun protection education.

To help people in the community manage health issues through improved dietary choices, PA students joined with the Western Colorado Community College Culinary Arts Program to offer free cooking classes. Sessions were designed to offer participants the tools to prepare foods proven to help prevent such chronic conditions as diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

PA students participating in a capstone project developed educational materials to help medical practitioners identify rashes on a wide variety of skin tones and ensure patients receive the right care regardless of their skin tones. The project grew out of the diversity and inclusion committee within the PA student society. The group designs presentations and interactive activities for classmates and faculty through a monthly newsletter and a series of events.

In yet another capstone project, PA students partnered with the Colorado Health Network to create the Harm Reduction Program. Students volunteered to lead needle pickup events and design and deliver presentations to local organizations and medical groups about harm reduction practices and resources. Harm reduction efforts are intended to reduce the rate of infection among patients struggling with substance use. In providing a safe space and safe materials for those patients, health care providers have an opportunity to discuss safe use and treatment options to decrease substance use and in turn overall health care costs.