First SAU class receives Master of Physician Assistant Degree


By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — St. Ambrose University celebrated a milestone Dec. 17 when 29 members of the inaugural class in the Master of Physician Assistant Degree program received their diplomas. Many of the grads already have secured jobs in a medical field urgently needing their skills.

Barb Arland-Fye
Jena Benik and Trevor Portiner talk at a Dec. 17 news event at St. Ambrose University’s Center for Health Sciences Education, Davenport. They are part of the inaugural class that earned SAU’s Master of Physician Assistant Degree.

Their rigorous, 2-1/2-year course has equipped them to provide patient care that includes performing physical examinations, ordering tests, diagnosing and treating illness, performing minor procedures and first-assisting in surgery. Physician assistants can help alleviate the challenge of meeting healthcare needs in areas with a shortage of physician providers. Members of this first cohort to graduate from the program have the opportunity to serve where their passions call them.

Trevor Portiner will work in internal medicine at Lower Manhattan Hospital in New York City as a hospitalist. “I’m most excited about having a career where you can impact somebody’s life. This is one job that I’m 100 percent sure I’m doing what I want to do,” he said.


Cassie Schill anticipates her new job in Valentine, Neb., where she will work in family practice, the ER and outpatient care. She hopes to also get involved in flight paramedic work.

She fell in love with the culturally diverse community, located near the Rosebud Indian Reservation, while doing a four-week clinical rotation there. “It’s the only hospital within a 150-mile radius,” she said.

“You have to be able to take in whoever walks in the door and treat them, no matter the intensity or seriousness” of the health challenge. She and her husband, Matt, also discovered a need for general contractors in the area. “It’s like coming home,” Schill said.

For Amanda Proczak, home will be in Iowa, where she will work in general surgery for Great River Health Systems in Burlington. “I’ll be the first physician assistant in general surgery they’ve had,” she said. Her fiance’s family lives in Burlington, so she chose that community as a place to begin her medical career. “I’m looking most forward to being independent, being able to come up with my own treatment base.” She is also eager to meet patients and build relationships, something that couldn’t happen during the short-term clinical rotations. Now, “I’ll be able to follow people’s progression.”

“This is the moment we’ve all waited for (the past) 29 months,” said Jena Benik, a wife and mother of a 13-year-old daughter. A resident of Texas, she lived with her parents in Hampton, Ill., while completing her studies. She commuted home monthly but said being away from her husband and daughter was difficult, even though they supported her decision. At the same time, Benik was able to look after her ailing mother before she died. Now Benik looks forward to returning home to realize that dream. “I finally get to practice medicine. I’ve wanted to do this for 10 years.”

Jessica Hoeffler is eager to begin her residency at Methodist Debakey Heart and Vascular Center in Houston, Texas. She’ll do several different rotations in cardio vascular surgery and eventually assist in open heart surgery. This particular field interests her because of the complexity of the cases.

Jennifer Hermanson will work in neurosurgery in Anchorage, Alaska, and looks forward to “starting a new life and impacting other people’s lives.
In June 2017, St. Ambrose University’s College of Health and Human Services will begin its fourth cohort of 30 physician assistant students. “We had over 500 applications for the fourth cohort,” said Dr. Kerry Humes, an internist and the program’s director. She has been on faculty since the start of the program and assumed the directorship this past summer, describing it as a natural fit. “I feel we have a really solid beginning to the program.” She’s looking forward to growing community support.

Sandra Cassady, dean of the College of Health and Human Services, noted that St. Ambrose receives positive feedback from the medical community about the performance of the students in the physician assistant program. They are intelligent but also relate well to their patients, she said.

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