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MC’s undergraduate strength provides pathway to PA Program

Marietta College alumni who are first-year Physician Assistant students (from left to right): Annastashia Carpenter, Denise Jacoby, Talitha Hochstetler, Cantor Schott, Parker Dinan, Natalie Chase and Alexis Enochs. (Photo provided)

For students aspiring to become physician assistants, Marietta College offers an unparalleled path to success. The College’s strong undergraduate programs in Health Science, Biology, and Biochemistry provide a robust foundation, seamlessly paving the way for admittance and success in the esteemed master’s program in Physician Assistant studies.

“The undergraduate experience at Marietta prepared me because it tested me almost as much as this program has,” said Parker Dinan ’23, PA’25 (Nashport, Ohio). “The classes and professors in the program and the Biochemistry Department want the best for us, but they make sure we work for it as well. The relationship with professors is also very similar, and that is something very important to me.”

For Cantor Schott ’23, PA’25 (Caldwell, Ohio), his undergraduate experience helped in many ways, including the depth of material he took and specific courses such as Anatomy, Physiology and Cell Biology, to name a few.

“Coming in with a base understanding of these topics really helped me get ahead,” Schott said. “Second, the work ethic that was instilled in me during my undergraduate career has allowed me to manage the heavy workload in the PA program. These include skills like time management, organization, study skills, and many more.”

The proof is in the numbers: of the 38 students currently thriving in the first year of Marietta’s Physician Assistant graduate program, seven hail from the College’s undergraduate ranks. These standout alumni were meticulously prepared through a rigorous yet supportive curriculum, equipping them with the knowledge, skills, and resilience to excel in this demanding field.

Six of the students – Annastashia Carpenter ’23, PA’25 (Barnesville, Ohio), Natalie Chase ’23, PA’25 (Richfield, Ohio), Alexis Enochs ’20, PA’25 (Beverly, Ohio), Talitha Hochstetler ’23, PA’25 (Lancaster, Ohio), Dinan, and Schott – earned bachelor’s degrees from Marietta. Denise Jacoby PA’25 (Marietta, Ohio) took a handful of science and math classes at Marietta to be better prepared for the PA Program.

“As an undergraduate student years ago, I never really understood chemistry,” said Jacoby, who graduated from Ohio Northern University. “I did the work and regurgitated the information, but I was never able to comprehend the significance of it. This time around, however, I understood the content of the courses, and if I had questions, the faculty at Marietta were available to help me. I think the ability to have Zoom office hours with the faculty also played a pivotal role in my ability to talk with the faculty about my questions.”

Enochs, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training, didn’t go straight into the program. She believes working at a local hospital has benefited her as a PA student.

“I feel more prepared due to my gap years. The time between undergrad and grad school gave me the opportunity to expand my knowledge and get hands-on clinical experience,” she said. “I feel that my work as a patient care tech at the local hospital allowed me to see patients and diseases we learn about now, which makes it easier to remember. I also think working with patients has given me a larger perspective and taught me how to show empathy and compassion for each patient. I am also excited to use both my clinical past and current education to excel and grow during the clinical year as well as in the future with a job. Working in the hospital setting showed me how medicine is a team-based approach. Seeing doctors, PAs, NPs, nurses, techs, phlebotomists, OTs, PTs, etc. work together solidified my decision that I wanted to be a part of that team one day.”

Carpenter actually chose Marietta for her undergraduate education because she knew she wanted to attend the PA Program.

“We are considered a smaller program with 38 students. This has allowed my classmates and I to make strong connections with one another,” said Carpenter, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry. We all work together in order to help one another make it through this rigorous process. Whether that be study guides, answering questions when someone is confused, or just relaxing with one another to help ease the tension and anxiety.”

They all agree that the two-year PA Program is one of the most challenging things they have ever done.

“The PA program is exhausting and challenging, but I think that having a close bond with classmates and professors really is a difference maker to make the challenging times better,” Enochs said. “I have several close friends in the program that I do activities with outside of the classroom, like playing recreational basketball, watching movies, going on walks, or even small things like getting ice cream or coffee as a treat after a hard week.”

Schott, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Health Science, added that the most challenging part of the first year has been keeping up with the volume of coursework.

“I thoroughly enjoy most of the content that is presented to me,” Schott said. “However, we learn so much in a short period of time, it can be hard to balance. After some time, though, you learn your own style and how to make the most of your time.”

Chase is thankful that her undergraduate experience at Marietta helped prepare her for the rigors of becoming a PA.

“Truthfully, I feel PA school is actually easier to manage than my undergrad workload at times,” said Chase, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Health Science. “I learned time-management skills, scientific critical thinking skills, and self-discipline that made the transition to PA school much easier.”

Majoring in Biochemistry, Hochstetler knew she wanted to continue her education in medicine.

“One of my biggest struggles was finding a balance between self-care and school. Thanks to the four years in undergrad, I have found that balance and been able to apply it to graduate life in the PA program,” Hochstetler said. “Although learning to be a Physician Assistant requires a lot of hard work and dedication, I feel my time in undergrad has properly prepared me for how to successfully manage the fast-paced learning.”

The students all agree that having supportive faculty is also important in making Marietta’s program stand out. One example is the “town hall meeting,” held each semester by PA Program Director Christi Gierhart, who asks each cohort if they have any issues, concerns or questions.

“She also listens to us about any recommendations and fills us in for upcoming events or changes,” Enochs said. “All of the professors have an open-door policy where we can go to their offices and/or reach out via text or email. There have been several occasions that I have had to reach out, and they have promptly responded. I remember during the fall semester, I was having a difficult time with pharmacology and doing medication conversions. I had texted the professor and he responded back with the option to Facetime after he got off work to go over the problems prior to having the exam. Something so simple as a quick Facetime meant so much to me.”

The rigors of the program are a true investment for students who are serious about preparing for their futures, and students like Jacoby cannot recommend Marietta’s program enough to others looking to pursue a career in medicine.

“As an undergraduate, now is the time to solidify your studying and time-management skills,” Jacoby said. “Those may change once you are in the program, but having a solid foundation that you can modify as you need is so much easier than starting from scratch like I had to do.”

Many students note that Director Gierhart is a big reason why the program is so popular and thriving. She is dedicated to recruiting and nurturing future physician assistants. While actively seeking out graduate students, she also meets with high school scholars, enlightening them about Marietta’s direct-admit program. This seamless pathway allows undergraduates to transition directly into the master’s program upon meeting specific requirements. This strategic approach ensures a steady influx of talent, cultivating healthcare professionals of the highest caliber.

“High-achieving high school students can apply for the direct admit pathway into the prestigious Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies graduate program at Marietta College,” Gierhart said. “Students accepted as freshmen into the Physician Assistant Direct Admit Pathway must successfully fulfill all undergraduate requirements. When the requirements are met, the student is guaranteed a seat in our PA Program.”

After joining the program in April 2022, Gierhart noticed that the program had an untapped wealth of strong students among Marietta’s undergraduate population. She also noted that any Marietta graduate who completes at least 50% of the PA program prerequisites and other admission requirements is guaranteed an interview.

“My experience with these amazing MC undergrads is that they have a commitment to their education and dedication to serving their community and future patients,” Gierhart said. “All of these students are academically sound and have excelled in the classroom, which is not easy to say with the rigorous 26-month curriculum our program provides. This excellence is a testament to the knowledge and mentorship they receive at the undergraduate level at Marietta College. Each student also displays professionalism, leadership skills, and teamwork, which are some of the many hallmarks of a Marietta College Physician Assistant. I am confident our undergraduate programs will continue to serve as a pipeline for outstanding physician assistant students.”

Located in Marietta, Ohio, at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers, Marietta College is a four-year liberal arts college. Tracing its roots to the Muskingum Academy, founded in 1797, the College was officially chartered in 1835. Today, Marietta College serves a body of 1,200 full-time students. The College offers over 50 majors and is consistently ranked among the top regional comprehensive colleges by U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review. Marietta was selected seventh in the nation according to the Brookings Institution’s rankings of colleges by their highest value added, regardless of major.

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