Elms College can boast a 100 percent success rate for its 2014 natural sciences undergraduates who sought placement in physician assistant programs.

Amanda Therrien (left to right), Raul Alicea, Edward Innarelli and Brooke Gauthier -- have all been accepted into physician assistant programs.

4 for 4: Elms Graduates Succeed Amid Tough PA Competition

Physician assistant programs are extremely competitive and highly selective, often accepting only a handful of candidates from hundreds – or even thousands – of applicants. But Elms College, a small school with big resources, can boast a 100 percent success rate for its 2014 natural sciences undergraduates who sought such placements.

“I am very proud of this group of students,” said Janet Williams, Ph.D., a biology professor at Elms who also is the Premedical and Prehealth Professions advisor and the director of the Postbaccalaureate Premedical Studies program. “Most professional health programs are extremely competitive, so being able to boast that most of your applicants are accepted is impressive. We are a small school with small numbers but large percentages. Elms provides a very thorough education. We have a challenging premedical program that encompasses all of the premedical prerequisites and more. Students can earn a minor in bioethics, which is highly important to understanding healthcare, and the concerns in healthcare and biology today.”

Edward Innarelli of Ludlow, Mass., majored in biology with a bioethics minor. He was Elms’ first male valedictorian and graduated with a GPA of 3.99. While taking classes, he put in 25-30 hours a week as a patient care technician at Mercy Medical Center. Innarelli initially wanted to become a pharmacist, and spent considerable time pursuing that goal, but decided to become a PA after shadowing one and seeing the level of patient care involved.

“[I] noticed what their role is, and it made me want to pursue it as a career,” he said. With his new goal to apply to PA programs, Innarelli shifted focus to become a CNA to attain the patient care hours PA schools require. He earned nearly 1500 hours while completing his last two years at Elms College.

Innarelli was accepted into his first-choice school, Tufts University, following first round interviews after commencement. He wanted Tufts because Baystate Medical Center in Springfield is the western campus of Tufts University School of Medicine, and he liked the idea of having that connection close to home. He is leaning toward specializing in surgery, but it’s possible that that could change. “I’ll have to wait for my rotation to see” what is most interesting, he said.

Brooke Gauthier of Chicopee majored in biology. She was accepted into Springfield College, her first-choice school, in August. She is Elms’ first student to be accepted into Springfield College’s physician assistant program. She was recently followed by Amanda Therrien of Holyoke, a chemistry major, who said she feels “challenged and well-rounded” for having attended Elms. Therrien hopes to go into pediatric medicine, while Gauthier envisions her career path beginning in emergency medicine and then moving into surgery.

Raul Alicea, a native of Puerto Rico and now a resident of Chicopee, majored in biology and has been accepted into the program at Bay Path. A profound experience led him to choose a career as a PA: “During my rotations as a nuclear medicine technologist at BayState Medical Center, I witnessed a doctor telling a family before me that their 5-year-old girl was brain dead after a tragic car accident. I wanted to become a PA in order to directly help those around me through patient care.”

The Pre-Health/Pre-Medicine Professional Studies program at Elms offers impressive advantages for undergraduate study in preparation for advanced training in the health professions: small class sizes, working relationships with faculty members, research opportunities and unlimited professional guidance. Students in this program can prepare for careers as physicians, dentists, optometrists, veterinarians, chiropractors, physical therapists, medical technologists, pharmacists, physician assistants and more.

The program not only lays the foundation for medical work but also helps make them more attractive to schools, putting them ahead of the game when they apply. “A lot of people ... are just starting to work in the healthcare field right now getting their volunteering and shadowing done, and we’ve already done that,” Innarelli said.

The personalized nature of the program helps set students up for academic and professional success from the start, Alicea said. “For instance, English is not my first language. Through individualized attention, the classes helped to improve my communication skills and prepare myself for a future in the medical field,” he said.

“Elms has educated me for PA school in countless ways,” Innarelli added. “A career in medicine thrives on the ability to work in a team and clearly communicate vital information to others.My classes at Elms strongly encouraged discussion among students and teachers, which will pay dividends not just for PA school, but for a career in medicine.”

Another big benefit for these members of the Class of 2014 was the schedule of advisory meetings Williams held to help them succeed. At these regular meetings, she outlined PA schools’ requirements and set the students up to surpass them. Now these successful applicants can offer advice to students who are just starting to consider PA careers.

“Be prepared – do everything early,” Gauthier said. “When it comes to patient care, get a ton of hours in early. Get yourself out there and meet people. Shadow more than one PA. Most PA schools want a minimum GPA of 3.0, so you want to do well above a 3.0.”

“Do more than what PA schools want,” she continued. “Every requirement that they set – that’s just the minimum, so you can’t have just the minimum. There are so many applicants, so you have to go above and beyond.”

Going above and beyond is something Elms instills in each student, and it’s about social justice in addition to academics, Williams pointed out. “Elms College provides enough flexibility and proximity to institutions where students can earn patient care hours, and work and volunteer in healthcare,” she said. “But the core values and mission are also very important to developing students who are well suited to the health professions. Not only are our students capable academically, but they are also concerned, compassionate and responsible individuals.”

Other graduates in recent years have gone on to UMass Medical School, Creighton University School of Medicine, University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine, State University of New York at Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine, New York Chiropractic College, Albany College of Pharmacy, Quinnipiac University Physician Assistant program, BayPath College Physician Assistant program, Bridgeport University Physician Assistant program, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, Western New England College of Pharmacy and many others.