By Teresa Adams ’21
Dr. Jennifer Hixon, DHSc, PA-C, is founding director and chair of Westfield State’s Health Sciences Department. In March, she received notice that the University would be transitioning to remote learning and knew plans for the semester would have to change.
“Faculty worked tirelessly to not only move courses and materials online, but also to do it in the best way possible with the resources we have,” she said.
Special Zoom meetings were held, including ones to which students, faculty, and staff brought their dogs, just to stay connected. The faculty did most of the online teaching during the remote learning period and had limited guests.
“We now can spontaneously and confidently move from on ground to online,” Dr. Hixon said.
Dr. Hixon and her staff were also required to train the students on COVID-19. Together, the faculty created a training module, covering a broad scope of topics in healthcare. The idea for the module came from Simulation Instructor Ben Hogan, a City of Westfield paramedic and firefighter. Hogan trained students on pre-hospital care, and Dr. Hixon referenced his impressive notes and journals.
“That made me start to think about who among my faculty would deliver this material,” she said. “I realized that all of the faculty practice in different environments.”
Professor Jessica Marchesi, PA-C, created a talk about patients in long-term and palliative care, and Professor Stephen Lee, MS, PA-C, focused on mental health for his part of the training.
“He taught not only how to take care of the patients,” Dr. Hixon said, “but how to take care of ourselves.”
Sharon Woods, a physician assistant at Baystate Medical Center in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation/Neurosciences Division, talked about the treatments for current hospital patients.
“I choose to look at this current health care crisis as my opportunity to demonstrate a sense of stability for our students,” said Woods, adding, “as well as to teach them the benefits of flexibility, creativity, and perseverance in the face of adversity.”
The program’s medical director, Kristin L. Dardano, MD, an OB/GYN doctor and vice chair of the OB/GYN Department at Baystate Health, talked about obstetrics during COVID. Dr. Hixon practices in urgent care and taught students about her experiences and the administrative pieces that had to change in that field.
The unit included a two-hour lecture about COVID-19. It was offered to all PA programs by Martha Flores McKean, MS, PA-C, an ERPA in Boston and former student of Dr. Hixon.
“At the end, students were in tears thanking the faculty for putting together this unit,” Dr. Hixon said, noting it was one of the best teaching displays she has ever witnessed in her 35 years as a PA.
Students were grateful.
“Dr. Hixon and our faculty have always been willing to tailor the academic curriculum to meet our needs,” said Amie Savakis, a current PA student. “That holds true now, more than ever.”
“From the program perspective, I know we can do it,” said Dr. Hixon. “The students are thriving, and I feel good about that.”
She added that there are extraordinary demands on the University’s PA students.
“I live and work here,” she said, noting that the PA program is about more than a passing grade or high-level degree. “In the end, we have to answer to the patients in our community.”