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CMU’s Physician Assistant Program Wins Award

CMU PA Student Society honored for their commitment to advocacy, public service, DEI practices and professional involvement

Colorado Mesa University’s Physician Assistant Studies Program is only four years old, but in that short time students have worked hard to ensure our community is healthy and resilient, which they were recently recognized nationally for these efforts.

A physician assistant (PA) is a medical provider who works as part of a collaborative medical team. They are nationally certified when they graduate and can work in any state if they also obtain state licensure.

CMU Director of Clinical Education and Assistant Clinical Professor of Physician Assistant Studies A'lanne Conrad, DMSc, PA-C, has helped shape the program during her four-year tenure and is proud of the impact graduates of the program have already made.

“PAs can work in any medical field. They graduate as a generalist and can be utilized to help reduce access to healthcare gaps in all areas of the country. Currently we have 13 graduates who work in the Grand Valley and four of our graduates serve our rural communities along the I-70 corridor and in Montrose,” said Conrad.

PA program graduates go through 27 months of rigorous training including 15 months of medical didactic education and 12 months of clinical rotations. Like many of CMU’s programs, the diverse curriculum is rooted in experiential learning and in addition to clinical rotations, PA students actively volunteer in the community as part of their capstone projects and through the PA Student Society (PASS).

In recognition of their outstanding community engagement, the PASS at CMU received their first award this year. Each year, student societies from around the country apply for the American Academy of Physician Associates (AAPA) Outstanding Student Society Award. Each application is then judged based on how that school’s student society engaged in the areas of public education and advocacy; public service and outreach; diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) practices and professional involvement.

Because CMU’s program is so new, winning this award is a testament to the university’s high-quality programming, the robust community connections the program’s faculty have established and to the tremendous support that students receive from preceptors, administrators and staff in the local medical community.

During her time as the Director of Clinical Education for the program, Conrad has seen the PASS flourish with guidance from faculty.

“This class was able to put into words what the 2021, 2022 and 2023 cohorts put into action. While the students of the class of 2024 received the award, they stand on the backs of the CMU PA students that came before them. They are continuing and establishing a proud legacy for CMU and for all Colorado PAs,” said Conrad, DMSc.

As demographics in the United States continues to change and become more diverse, medical providers must also diversify their approach to providing care to ensure all patients are treated with dignity. The PA program faculty at CMU has worked meet this challenge by providing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) instruction in their curriculum and by inspiring students to be innovators and agents of change in their work. The goal of these efforts is to reduce disparities in the quality of care that underserved populations receive — especially along the West Slope of Colorado by preparing graduates to meet patients where they are and to find ways to increase access to care for all patients.

The PASS has accepted this challenge to innovate and enact change through several service projects and capstones. At a recent Special Olympics event held at CMU, PA students volunteered to provide health screenings and health education presentations to hundreds of athletes with intellectual disabilities. Participants received mental health screenings along with tools to help manage anxiety and depression, podiatrist evaluations for issues affecting their feet, vision screenings and vision prescription assistance, dual x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) bone density scans and the athletes also received nutrition and sun protection education.

To help people in the community manage health issues through improved dietary choices, CMU PA students teamed up with the Western Colorado Community College Culinary Arts Program to offer free cooking classes. Each session was designed to offer participants the tools required to prepare great food that is also proven to help prevent chronic diseases including diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

PA students also assisted with the Colorado Mission of Mercy’s free dental clinic where they helped screen patients, performed preliminary assessments for precluding health issues and served as patient advocates for those seeking care at the clinic. The clinic offers dental care to those in the community that do not have insurance or may be unable to pay for necessary dental work.

In another capstone, PA students developed educational materials for practitioners to help them identify rashes on a wide variety of skin tones to ensure that regardless of a patient’s skin tone, every patient would still receive top-notch care. This capstone grew out of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee within the PASS — a student-led committee that receives support from all faculty. The committee is focused on expanding their own knowledge of diversity, equity and inclusion issues that medical practitioners need to be aware of and working to educate their peers and other professionals in the field. This group designs presentations and interactive activities that are delivered to classmates and faculty through a monthly newsletter and through a series of events each year to ensure everyone is staying current on best practices.

Yet another capstone project partnered with the Colorado Health Network to create the Harm Reduction Program. These students volunteered weekly to lead needle-pickup events and to design and deliver presentations to local organizations and medical groups about harm reduction practices and harm reduction resources that are available in the community. A study published in the journal Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy in 2020 found that patients with complications from substance abuse accounted for over six billion dollars in healthcare expenses over a three-year period in Florida. Harm reduction efforts are intended to reduce the rate of infection among patients struggling with substance use by providing a safe space and safe materials for those patients it gives healthcare providers an opportunity to discuss safe use and treatment options to decrease substance use which can in turn decrease overall healthcare costs. PASS students involved in the Harm Reduction Program capstone are contributing to these efforts by modeling and educating others about how to deliver non-judgmental, patient-centered care without condoning drug use.

Upon receiving the AAPA Outstanding Student Society Award for these combined efforts, faculty and students have received other recognition including on the AAPA’s website, in The Daily Sentinel, and both a faculty interview and student interviews on KKCO 11 News.

For more information about CMU’s PA program and to learn about upcoming events organized by the PASS, visit the program page.

  • CMU PA students competing at the State Medical Challenge Bowl where they placed 1st, 2nd, and 3rd

    CMU PA students competing at the State Medical Challenge Bowl where they placed 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.

  • CMU PA students at a local emergency department after giving a talk to providers about harm reduction

    CMU PA students at a local emergency department after giving a talk to providers about harm reduction.

  • CMU PA students competing in the iScan Point of Care Ultrasound Competition at the AAPA conference

    CMU PA students competing in the iScan Point of Care Ultrasound Competition at the AAPA conference.

  • CMU PA student Taylor Teske giving a continuing medical education lecture

    CMU PA student Taylor Teske giving a continuing medical education lecture.


Written by Giff Walters