June 23, 2020 — In just a few weeks, Caitlin McNally, MPAS ’20, will begin a career as a physician assistant in the pediatric cardiology department of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. What may seem like a daunting transition for some is a wonderful adventure for McNally, who gained firsthand experience caring for others in a high-stress, high-impact environment over the last three months.
McNally, along with other PA and medical students, assisted UF faculty and staff in COVID-19 testing efforts across the state. From swabbing school-aged children at P.K. Yonge to conducting antibody testing of residents in Cedar Key, McNally gained unforgettable experience working with Florida communities, moments that energize her and make her feel prepared to begin her career.
“Many students were so brave – We knew we needed to get out there and help,” McNally said. “Seeing everyone just jump in made me feel inspired and ready to jump in after graduation.”
McNally was honored for her courageous spirit and extensive volunteer service with the Kenneth Lewis Award during the UF School of Physician Assistant Studies virtual commencement ceremony and honors convocation, which was livestreamed to viewers across the nation June 20.
Nina Multak, Ph.D., MPAS, PA-C, associate dean and Randolph B. Mahoney Director of the UF School of PA Studies, began the ceremony by thanking faculty and the family members of each graduate for their mentorship and support of the students. For the 62 graduates, she offered advice for the future.
“You began your PA training in the pre-pandemic era,” Multak said. “Although you’re entering a very different workforce and world than you expected, it’s a world that needs you. We know you are ready. We want you to show us not how to put the pieces back together but how to create a new and more evolved normal.”
UF College of Medicine Interim Dean Joseph A. Tyndall, M.D., M.P.H., likened commencement to the beginning of a new chapter full of “excitement and anticipation” for what comes next.
“You face this chapter with courage and with all the strength and skills you’ve accumulated over these last two years,” Tyndall said. “This is a time for us to shore up our purpose, for us to understand what our missions are, for us to understand that when we sit side by side with any patient, no matter their background, color or hue, it’s about stretching our hands out, connecting with humanity and caring in the manner in which we pledged to do.”
Kelsea Lydon, MPAS ‘20, president of the class of 2020, reflected on the unprecedented times facing the global community and the indispensable responsibility that she and her fellow graduates bear for the most vulnerable members of the population.
“We are becoming the next generation of physician assistants in a time of great uncertainty — a pandemic continues to rage on, institutional racism thrives and many of our most vulnerable citizens lack basic health care,” Lydon said. “I bring up these grim issues not to distract from this celebration but to remind us of the importance of community. We have taken an oath as medical professionals to first do no harm. As we enter the workforce, it is our responsibility to do what we can for our community by continuing to learn, continuing to grow and continuing to do right by our patients.”
Longtime UF anatomy professor Kyle Rarey, Ph.D., invited the class of 2020 to create moments of stillness within themselves to appreciate all they have achieved over the last two years.
“This is a defining moment for the class of 2020,” he said. “They’re going to become difference makers in the lives of those they touch and help heal. They’ll become sentinels and guardian angels, watching over those in need. For our fellow citizens, they will be gifts because of the knowledge and skills they’ve gained and the traits of their character.”
Shalon Buchs, M.H.S., PA-C, assistant director of the UF School of PA Studies, presented McNally and a handful of students with awards before she was presented herself with the Outstanding Academic Year Instructor Award by class of 2020 vice president Sam Martin.
After degrees were conferred as each graduate’s name, photo and hometown flashed across the screen, Multak ended the ceremony by congratulating the graduates and informing them that, in addition to their diplomas, they will also receive by mail the essays they wrote before being admitted as PA students just two years ago. She recommended the graduates frame these essays as reminders of the passion and drive they have each carried within since the beginning of their training.
Access the archived livestream, view faculty messages to students and more on the School of PA Studies class of 2020 commemorative webpage.