Physician Assistant Students Shine at AAPA National Conference in Houston

Jun 20, 2024
PA students at the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) National Conference in Houston, Texas. They are posing with a purple owl and hold blue signs that say 'Rally Towel'.

Westfield State students at the American Academy of Physician Assistants National Conference in Houston, Texas.

In May 2024, Dr. Susan McDiarmid, Assistant Program Director of the Physician Assistant Program at Westfield State University, led a group of 15 physician assistant (PA) students to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) National Conference in Houston, Texas. This marks the second year that PA students from the University have attended the conference, with opportunities to attend being extended to 30 second-year students, of which an impressive 50 percent of them participated.

"It was absolutely incredible," Dr. McDiarmid remarked about the experience. “We had a team of three Challenge Bowl team members who competed against 95 other PA Program from across the country. One of our students even dressed up in a full Owl costume, which made the social media posts of AAPA!”

The conference’s keynote speaker, Hayley Arceneaux, served as a reminder for PA students to dream big as she is a commercial astronaut and the first certified PA-C to go to space. Additionally, Arceneaux is also a cancer survivor, making her the first astronaut with a prosthetic body part.

Students at the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) National Conference in Houston, Texas. They are posing with Hayley Arceneaux, a commercial astronaut and the first PA student to go to space.
Students posing with keynote speaker and astronaut Hayley Arceneaux.

Edward Krajkowski, one of the attending students, shared his enthusiasm about the experience. "I am so grateful for the opportunity to attend the AAPA conference,” he said. “It was an amazing experience, and I loved attending a variety of lectures from experts in their fields. It was an incredible learning experience to access so many providers with such a wealth of expertise. Additionally, it gave me the chance to speak with lecturers who provided specific career advice and skills such as point-of-care ultrasound."

Classmate Jennifer Pham echoed Krajkowskis sentiments. "The AAPA conference was a wonderful opportunity for us as current PA students to learn more about the profession through various events, such as the exposition, learning sessions, and social gatherings.”

Pham continued to comment on the value of each high-quality presentation and lectures. “The expo featured vendors ranging from pharmaceutical companies to job recruiters. The lectures were highly informative and served as a refreshing overview of conditions we will commonly encounter in healthcare. For example, I sat in on a presentation about neurological emergencies where the speaker reviewed key points for certain brain disorders and provided tips on how to approach these cases based on their personal experience."

For Eleanor Adzamli, this was the first conference she attended, and it had been a long-anticipated experience. As one of the students who competed in the Challenge Bowl, she encouraged future students to participate. “The Challenge Bowl is a must,” she remarked. “It tested my knowledge and helped me to identify topics I needed more coverage on. I would highly recommend future PA students to attend the conference, because its a once in a year opportunity to learn, socialize, and make connections with numerous PAs from all walks of life.”

Students at the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) National Conference in Houston, Texas. Three pose in front of a neon sign that reads "The Challenge Bowl", a trivia game for PA students across the country.
Students also competed in the conference's Challenge Bowl, a competitive trivia competition for PA majors across the country.

Victoria Ferrara-Lawlor agreed, calling the energy of the competition “unmatched”. Meanwhile, fellow classmate Isabella Papoutsakis praised the conference’s general atmosphere of curiosity and passion, describing the lectures and presentations as eye-opening.

"It was a great experience to gain more knowledge about specialties I am interested in," Papoutsakis said. "The PAs who spoke provided excellent evidence-based guidance on how to be successful in various specialties. They also shared some 'tricks-of-the-trade' to help us be more successful. For professionalism and networking, it was very beneficial to learn about all the resources available to PAs and to meet PAs and PA students from across the country. These conversations about the PA profession from different parts of the US were eye-opening."

Overall, the AAPA National Conference provided an invaluable experience for Westfield State PA students, blending academic enrichment with professional networking. The students left Houston inspired and better prepared for their future careers, having gained new insights, practical skills, and connections with peers and seasoned professionals from across the country.