Bo Wilkinson is one of seven physician assistant students participating in an exciting University of Maryland Shore Regional Health initiative, the Physician Assistant (PA) Rotation Program. The program brings physician assistant students to learn by working with University of Maryland Community Medical Group (UM CMG) physicians in the five-county region served by UM Shore Regional Health.
For Wilkinson, a Bethany Beach, Delaware native and graduate of University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), working in a public service profession was always in his sights. “I thought I would join the Delaware State Police or become a paramedic,” he recalls. “But then, during an illness when I was in high school, I was treated by a physician assistant who formerly had been a paramedic, and he suggested that I look into the physician assistant career. Once I learned more about it, I thought it sounded great – there is a lot of versatility in the PA profession, you can specialize in one area but then change specialties if you become interested in a different area.”
Wilkinson has joined several family members in the health care ranks – his mother is a sonographer, he has cousins working in nursing and medical technology, and his brother, a med tech, also is considering the physician assistant profession. “My mother was very encouraging in my choice,” he says. “She pointed out that there will always be good opportunities in health care.”
According to William Huffner, MD, chief medical officer and senior vice president, Medical Affairs, for UM Shore Regional Health,the PA rotation program benefits students but also the health care system and its patients. “The feedback from several of these students is that their positive experiences in our hospitals and physician practices make the possibility of employment in our region attractive to them,” Huffner says.
Offered in partnership with Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) and now with University of Maryland at Baltimore (UMB), the year-long rotation program enables UM SRH physicians to serve as preceptors for students in the AACC and UMB combined Physician Assistant/Master of Science in Health Science program.Along with six other PA students, Wilkinson has been working with physician preceptors on a rotating basis since their arrival last March.
In November, Wilkinson’s rotation was with Eric Anderson, MD, medical director, Shore Behavioral Health, and other members of the UM Community Medical Group-Behavioral Health team. “My rotation in behavioral health complemented my interest in emergency care,” he says. “I was surprised to see how big a factor behavioral health issues are in emergency care – so many patients who come into the emergency department with an illness or injury also have a behavioral health issue, whether it’s drug abuse, medications that aren’t working or an untreated psychiatric condition. During the assessment process, you have to be aware of that and factor it in to the patient’s treatment plan.”
The challenges of emergency care attract Wilkinson to serving in an emergency department after completing his degree, although he also is considering orthopedics. “In the ED, everything is a surprise,” he says. “You have to be versatile to accommodate a variety of patients with problems across the full spectrum of bodily systems,” he says.“Working in the ED forces you to develop a solid foundation in assessment – you might identify several health issues but you need to focus on the one that is most serious or even life-threatening to the patient. During my ED rotation, the physicians included me in every aspect of care – I even did some small procedures such as sutures.”
Research is another aspect of the PA studies program. Wilkinson’s capstone research project, which he shares with five other students, focuses on initial imaging modalities for diagnosis of kidney stones. As he explains, “The use of CT scans for patients with suspected kidney stones increased ten-fold between 1996 and 2007, but the scans involve a high dose of radiation. An ultrasound is almost as good and avoids the radiation exposure, but doctors often order the CT to save time and the possibility of putting the patient through a second test if the ultrasound is not conclusive.”
Upon completion of the year-long rotation program in May ’17, Wilkinson will receive the M.S. degree in health science from UMB and a certificate of Physician Assistant Studies from AACC, and will be eligible to sit for the national certification exam for physician assistants.
“Whatever my specialty, I’m sure I want to work on this side of the Bay Bridge in Maryland or Delaware,” says Wilkinson. “For now, being part of Shore Regional has been such a great, hands-on learning experience. The PA students all feel like we are getting the ‘red carpet’ treatment, because the physicians — and also the nurses and techs –have been so generous in sharing their time and expertise.”
As part of the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), University of Maryland Shore Regional Health is the principal provider of comprehensive health care services for more than 170,000 residents of Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s, and Talbot counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. UM Shore Regional Health’s team of more than 2,500 employees, medical staff, board members, and volunteers works with various community partners to fulfill the organization’s mission of Creating Healthier Communities Together.