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Incoming physician assistant students get acquainted in online orientation

For Penn State College of Medicine’s incoming Physician Assistant (PA) Class of 2022, the journey of 1,000 miles began not with the first step, but with the first click.

In order to keep students and faculty safe during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the College of Medicine made history by hosting its first virtual orientation. PA program leadership and current students welcomed 30 new physician assistant students May 18 via online meeting.

The orientation, planned by director of admissions Caryn Stopper and program coordinator Jodi Verbos, lasted three days and ranged from an academic overview and student support services to a team-building event and alumni and current student panels. Nate McElroy, assistant director of academic development services at Penn State World Campus Orientation and Transition Programs, provided Stopper and Verbos the foundation to launch a successful virtual orientation.

There are 25 rectangles that show people who are participating in a virtual meeting. Each rectangle shows a participant's face on webcam.

Incoming physician assistant students showcase objects from around their homes that are meaningful to them during a team-building activity in their virtual orientation.

Students worked their way through a new student orientation course online at their convenience and joined live Zoom sessions in the afternoon.

One of the memorable team building activities required the new students to find an object in their home, present it to their classmates and explain to them why it was meaningful. This activity allowed students who otherwise may have felt distant an opportunity to connect with their peers in a meaningful way.

“The exercises were engaging, fun and they made our class feel more connected,” said one student. “I got to know my team-based learning group and the rest of the class. I loved it and I think it was the best possible thing we could have done given the current situation.”

The incoming class of students was selected from more than 5,200 applicants. The students have an average age of 25 and come from 13 different states. Each individual student had an average of 3,600 hours of health care exposure in roles including medical scribes, emergency medicine technicians, certified nursing assistants, mental health technicians and physical therapy aids. The class roster includes a veteran, a Fulbright fellow, honors college graduates, division one college athletes and even a Penn State Health employee.

Christine Bruce, director of the Physician Assistant Program at the College of Medicine, says students knowing they are being supported and feeling a sense of class unity is imperative. She commended staff for working hard to make students feel connected to the program, even while remaining physically distant.

“These students did not sign up to attend an online program,” Bruce said. “The carefully planned orientation program allowed the class to feel cared for. We will continue to provide educational content to allow these students to work together in order to lessen any isolation they might experience.”

There are 25 rectangles that show people who are participating in a virtual meeting. Each rectangle shows a participant's face on webcam.

Members of the incoming physician assistant class of 2022 get acquainted with each other during a virtual orientation on May 18.

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