GWU Physician Assistant Graduate Appreciated Program’s Class Size

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Clinical Rotations Offered Unique Learning Experiences for Caitlin Heredia (’16)

As a Physician Assistant Student in a women’s health clinical rotation, Caitlin Heredia typically began her day at 6 a.m. assisting with surgeries.

“Being a first assistant basically means that you are the surgeon’s third and fourth hands, so you maintain an open view of the area being operated on, hold retractors, maneuver the laparoscopic camera and instruments, and help close the incisions with sutures when the case is finished,” Heredia explained. “Surgeries may be as quick as 45 minutes, but I even assisted in one that lasted six hours. After our morning surgical cases, we either stayed at the hospital for an on-call day or headed to the clinic.”

Choosing the Physician Assistant Studies Program at Gardner-Webb was a simple decision for Heredia, who is a 2012 GWU graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Biology.

“I chose Gardner-Webb knowing that the excellence of the university as a whole would carry over to its Physician Assistant program,” she offered. “I was drawn by the Christian values, service-oriented mindset, and tight-knit community that set Gardner-Webb apart from other programs.”

The small class size was another plus for Heredia.

“My cohort is also very special to me. While some programs have classes of 80 or more students, we started with just 24,” she observed. “This provided the opportunity not only for us to have more one-on-one time with our faculty, but also to learn to work alongside and value the unique strengths of our peers.”

Heredia has been interested in the medical field since she was young. During college, she spent time shadowing different medical professionals.

“I eventually decided that becoming a Physician Assistant would be the best fit for me. What I love most about my career is that PAs are known for being compassionate, intelligent, and genuine providers who spend time with their patients,” Heredia offered. “PAs work with a team-based mentality that still allows us to practice with a lot of autonomy in diagnosing and treating patients. My desire is to make an impact on my community by promoting health, and helping patients find answers and solutions to their ailments. I look forward to rejoicing with new parents of a beautiful new life, as well as caring for the family who just found out their loved one has a fatal illness.”

She experienced some of those feelings while working with her obstetrical/gynecological preceptor (supervisor) in labor and delivery.

“My preceptor was very gracious and allowed me to take the lead on a couple of deliveries. I was usually putting the newborn on its mother’s chest and delivering the placenta through tears of joy, absolutely amazed at what I was able to experience,” she said.

Each clinical rotation provided her with valuable learning opportunities, but her favorite was family medicine. In the rural clinic where she spent six weeks, she was able to see a variety of patients with different health problems.

“I was constantly challenged by patients with complex problems, and we managed most of our patients’ chronic illnesses,” she commented. “One of my main desires as a physician assistant is to build trusting relationships with my patients, and this rotation allowed me to do that. I had the opportunity to see some patients more than once for follow-up visits. I loved spending time with them, learning about their lives, and determining how their lives affected how we needed to approach their treatment plan.”

She believes the GWU program is exceptional because of the qualified and compassionate people involved.

“Our faculty have backgrounds in family medicine, cardiology, orthopedics, and cardiothoracic surgery, which makes them well-equipped to teach us medicine,” she stated. “What is even better, though, is how they have instilled in us values of good medical providers who genuinely care and want to make a difference. The Gardner-Webb Physician Assistant program is also grounded on faith, which I feel emphasizes a mentality of being servants to those in need around us.”