The Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine launches today its Master in Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS). There are 45 students in the inaugural class chosen out of nearly 700 applicants.
25-year-old Mildred Castro is thrilled to be one of them, but there are two other people who are probably even more excited — her mom and dad, Nicaraguan immigrants who never finished middle school. Castro is a first generation student, the first person in her family to graduate from college and to move on to graduate school.
“For both of them, it’s a dream come true. They’re really proud of me,” she says.
Castro says she was inspired to go into medicine by her pediatrician, who is now the pediatrician of her 15-month-old son. Because she’s a mom, Castro says the relatively short time commitment for the PA program, 27 months, versus roughly 10 years she’d have to invest in going to medical school and residency, was perfect for her.
“People say that PA school is med school in 27 months,” says Ksenia Petrushkina, a 32-year-old native of Russia who moved to the United States 10 years ago with a master’s in English, but always wanted to study medicine.
Petrushkina was at her doctor’s office one day when due to a last minute emergency she had to be seen by the physician assistant instead. She was so impressed by the quality of the service that she started looking into becoming one herself. Like doctors, physician assistants are trained to examine patients, diagnose illnesses, provide treatment and prescribe some medications, but they cannot practice independently; they work under a physician’s supervision.
Petrushkina says that aside from the time factor, the PA program is also more affordable and provides versatility since PAs can practice in any field.
“I can be in dermatology, pediatrics. If I get bored, I can explore another field,” she says.
That versatility also attracted Bila Sheikh. The 28-year-old FIU biology grad is back for his second degree as a Panther. Sheik’s dad, a native of Pakistan, also graduated from FIU as an electrical engineer and so did his older brother, now a pharmacist. But it was his sister, a pediatrician, who recommended Sheikh become a physician assistant.
“She knows I want to start a family soon, and thought this would be good for me, and the fact that it’s connected to the medical school is important,” Sheik says.
Students are also aware of, and counting on, the current high demand for physician assistants. Due to a national shortage of primary care and family doctors, the PA is a hot job right now. Forbes listed it as No. 1 among “The Ten Most Promising Jobs of 2015,” and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the PA profession will grow by more than 38 percent between 2012 and 2022. Supply and demand is dictating very attractive starting salaries.
“The national average of a PA coming out of school is about 85K. For a young person, that’s a pretty good salary to begin with,” says Dr. Pete Gutierrez, associate dean and founding chair of the MPAS program.
All in due time, but for now, the new students are reveling in the excitement of being FIU pioneers.
“We’re the first class. We’ll show them!” Petrushkina says.