PA students learn through service

For Chris Kinney, now in his third year of Union College’s physician assistant program, becoming a PA was never about the money. And his experiences serving the Lincoln community through the PA program’s many outreach venues has only strengthened his desire to help people.

The international rescue and relief program first convinced Kinney to make the trip from California to Union. “I originally planned to be a paramedic,” he said. “But I really wanted be more involved in providing holistic ways to solve people’s health problems.”

In the PA program, Kinney found many opportunities to serve. “Teaching responsible servanthood is our foremost goal, and our graduates are taking that into the field in a way that makes them stand out from their peers,” explained Mike Huckabee, Union College’s PA program director. “Employers recognize that, and some even contact our program to list their jobs among the new PA graduates. They want our graduates because they show compassionate integrity that goes beyond what they normally see in the profession.”

Learning compassion

Union’s PA and nursing programs jointly sponsor and staff a foot clinic twice each month at one of Lincoln’s soup kitchens. “We wash their feet and clean their nails,” Kinney explained. “It’s very rewarding to give somebody a pair of shoes and to brighten their day.” Student volunteers provide basic foot care and two clean pairs of socks for each client. Every six months, a client also receives a new pair of shoes.

“These types of experiences are important,” said Cliff Korf, director of outreach for the PA program. “Students see the need and get excited about helping. They start thinking about how they can help the community when they get out of school and begin practicing.”

Kinney, who hopes to work in family practice, learned even more from his four-week clinical rotation at the free clinic at People’s City Mission, a local homeless shelter. “One day a man came into the clinic with a wound that needed attention,” he remembered. As he treated the patient, Kinney discovered that the man recently lost both his job and his house. “He was very impressed that someone would take the time to listen.” Kinney said. “I asked him if I could pray with him. He broke down and cried afterward.”

Kinney experienced many other rotations throughout the year, including at clinics in upscale neighborhoods. “Most patients at those clinics just want the drugs so they can be on their way,” he said. “At People’s City Mission, I had many opportunities to make an impact on people’s lives and to witness to them.”

Community involvement

Not only do PA students get a chance to serve Lincoln’s poor and homeless citizens, but they also volunteer at local companies as well.

Lincoln Industries, a metal finishing company nationally known for the electroplating on most Harley Davidson motorcycles, is recognized as having one of the top 10 employee wellness programs in the country. For five years, Union’s PA students have tested Lincoln Industries employees as part of this award-winning program. Each quarter, as many as 30 students volunteer several hours to test blood pressure, weight, body fat composition and flexibility.

“I enjoy volunteering at Lincoln Industries,” said Kinney, who has helped out six times. “The employees are obsessed with their health progress because the company provides some nice incentives for good health.”

Kinney appreciates the real world experience and client interaction. “It allows you to apply what you’ve learned in class and interact with patients,” he said. “We are there, not just to check them, but to talk to them about their health and how to improve it.”

“This experience is invaluable,” said Korf. “It equips them with skills, tools and experience while cultivating their interests in a particular field. Volunteering also shows future employers that they have the ability and desire to succeed in their chosen field.”

Why study medicine?

Kinney believes that these and many other opportunities for service help PA students evaluate their reasons to study medicine. “It allows you to reflect on your motives,” he said. “Am I here to help people or to just make money?”

For Kinney, the answer is easy. “I’ve always wanted to serve people and provide quality health care.”