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May 8, 2019

Newly minted physician assistants depart USJ for the job market

Contribued photo Olivia Leach (left) and Natalie Frey are soon-to-be graduates of USJ's physician assistant program. They are pictured here learning how to do finger stick glucose checks.

The University of Saint Joseph launched a new master’s degree program for physician assistants several years ago, and next week, its inaugural class will graduate into a healthcare job market with high demand for their skills.

USJ said 32 students from its Physician Assistant Studies program will walk in its 84th annual commencement ceremonies this coming Monday.

Among them is Kylie Hoang, 24, of West Hartford, who decided to pursue a career as a physician assistant after shadowing one in the surgery department at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center during her undergraduate studies at the University of Hartford.

“It really solidified that this is what I want to do,” Hoang said in an interview Wednesday. ”There’s such a need for physician assistants going forward.”

She said she’s seen that first hand, as St. Francis -- where she also spent some time on clinical rotation during the 27-month USJ program -- has already offered her a job. Many of her USJ classmates have also landed job offers, largely in Connecticut, she said.

The demand isn’t just anecdotal. Among occupations in Connecticut that require professional, master’s or doctoral degrees, physician assistant jobs are expected to see the third-fastest growth over the next seven years, adding a projected 574 positions, or 28.4 percent, according to the Connecticut Department of Labor, which pegged the average annual wage for those jobs at $117,439 as of early last year.

The higher education market in Connecticut is competitive, and there are physician assistants master’s programs at Quinnipiac University, Sacred Heart University, the University of Bridgeport and Yale School of Medicine. However, the admission requirements are also pretty rigorous, Hoang said.

“It’s extremely challenging to get in to a physician assistant program,” she said.

Hoang said she ultimately chose USJ’s program because it was new and because she was impressed by its director, Carrie Walker, who previously built a physician assistant program at Bryant University in Rhode Island.

The soon-to-be USJ graduates will still have to pass a national certification exam in order to start working as physician assistants. They’ve been studying and preparing for the last month or more for the test, said Hoang, who is taking her exam next week.

After that, she expects it will be a few months until her certifications are in order. She hopes to start at St. Francis in August.

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