FMU’s first PA class: a tie that binds

December 21, 2018

FLORENCE, S.C. – Twenty-seven months and gallons of midnight oil later, Francis Marion University’s first class of physician assistants have graduated.

The 32-member class reveled in the accomplishment on Dec. 15 at the commencement ceremony on the FMU campus – two-plus years of demanding academic and clinical work were done. A new career beckoned. But the class also reflected on the unique bond that had been forged. There will only be one “first class” in this PA program and they were it. That won’t be forgotten.

“There’s something about being that first class,” said graduate Karis Kellner of Los Angeles. “We’re closer with each other, with our faculty, I think. We’ve been through a lot. We’ve had input on the program. There’s something neat about that, something unusual. This time will be with us forever.”

Added graduate Whitney Sims of Darlington, “There’s only 32 of us. That’s not a big class, but it’s a large family, and that is what it’s like. They’re my brothers and sisters now. We’ve made connections, we look out for each other. I think that’s why we’re all still here.”

The first class, culled from more than a thousand applicants, will always be unique. It was a very strong class academically, said April Martin, director of FMU’s PA program. But it is a special class because of the bond formed between class members, and between students and faculty, too.

“This graduating class really solidified for us the importance of collaboration,” Martin said. “Their performance and feedback has really played a huge role in the success of the program. I am very proud of each and every one of them and I am extremely proud to now call them colleagues. I am excited to witness the impact they will have on health care in the Pee Dee region.”

FMU launched its PA program as part of a broader strategic initiative in which the university created programs that addressed the growing need, both regionally and beyond, for more advanced care practitioners. FMU already had a well-respected Nurse Practitioner program. Adding a PA program was a natural addition.

The program, class members say, lived up to FMU’s reputation as a leader in health care education. The program was tightly focused on providing frontline care in medically underserved areas and the faculty were intent on maintaining high standards in a nurturing environment.

“The faculty was with us all the time,” said graduate Brandon Maksin of Florence. “They know you so well, knew us all in a very short time. They knew all my strengths and all my weaknesses. That helps them understand what you need, prepares you better. I can’t say enough about it.”

Ready and willing, class members are now headed out into the world.

“Some of the time really flew by,” Kellner said. “Some was slower, tougher. But wemade it through, all 32 made it. We’re all getting ready to go out and begin our practice, find an internship, a fellowship. It’s exciting. I can’t wait.”

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