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Kean’s First Physician Assistant Class Receives White Coats

Kean University’s inaugural class of physician assistant students were presented with their white coats, a traditional symbol of professionalism and readiness, during a celebratory event held Friday, October 21.

The students marked the accomplishment as they begin their year of clinical practice. In January 2024, they will be the first graduates of the physician assistant program at Kean’s newly formed College of Health Professions and Human Services.

“You are earning your degree from New Jersey’s urban research university. Your physician assistant graduate program was designed to specifically address health disparities in our communities and to build on the University’s commitment to equity and academic excellence,” Kean University President Lamont O. Repollet, Ed.D., said in his remarks at the event. “You’re going to change — and save — lives. So wear that white coat with pride, because you’ve earned it.”

The first cohort of students began in the graduate program in 2021. Executive Director of Physician Assistant Studies Carol A. Biscardi, PA-C, Ph.D., said the students will now put their classroom knowledge into action.

“The knowledge they will gain is immeasurable,” she said. “It's more than just learning about diseases. It's learning about caring for patients.”

Eighteen students received white coats; an additional coat was presented posthumously to the family of Hanna Syed, a member of the class who passed away.

Keith Bostian, Ph.D., acting dean of the College of Health Professions and Human Services, spoke about the significance of the white coat.

“It’s a rite of passage,” Bostian said. “It’s a recognition for all the hard work you’ve done up to this point. It’s a symbol of professionalism; you will take an oath that will commit you for your career to do service and to respect humanity.”

The event’s keynote speaker, Eileen Muench, PA-C, worked in patient care from general surgery to neurosurgery in a career that took her from nursing to becoming a physician assistant. She urged the students to “know more, to do more and to be more” by learning in the field from doctors, nurses, therapists, fellow physician assistant students and their patients.

“They are all your teachers,” she said. “Take the time to listen intently and think deeply and take the time to care. There is so much more to the white coat that you receive today. This white coat represents your professionalism, your intelligence, your dedication.”

The Kean students will rotate through various hospital and clinical settings until October 2023. 

Bryelle Washington of Paterson, who earned her undergraduate degree from Virginia State University, will be doing clinical practice in OB-GYN at Hudson Regional Hospital in Secaucus. Her family came to the U.S. from Guyana.

“I would like to go into women’s health to help with the disadvantage of black women with pregnancy, and lower the black maternal death rate — to give back to other people who look like me, rather than just for myself,” she said.

Stephen Husch of Westfield, who received his undergraduate degree from Indiana University, called it an “extreme honor” to be part of the first cohort of physician assistant students at Kean. He will begin his clinical practice at Trinitas Hospital in Elizabeth.

“I'm excited to continue to gain clinical maturity, taking each step to grow as a practitioner and as a patient advocate,” he said. “Also, to turn the black and white of textbooks into something colorful with patient experience and being part of team-based medicine.”