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Assistant Professor Craig Hricz, MPAS, PA-C with PA students.

Craig Hricz, MPAS, PA-C, Assistant Professor, on Preparing the Next Generation of PAs

  • Six students are seated in a circle in the patient simulation laboratory on the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) Worcester campus. They’re in a quiet area of the laboratory, and the students are intently listening to Craig Hricz, MPAS, PA-C, an assistant professor in the School of Physician Assistant Studies.

    For these Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) students, it’s a vital opportunity to gain firsthand insight from a practicing PA-C and experienced faculty member. As these students prepare for their future careers as PAs, the personal connections and the knowledge they gain from faculty will be invaluable.

    Professor Hricz explains that career preparedness starts in classrooms and laboratories just like this one. Students then apply the knowledge they gain from faculty in clinical rotations. “They work with preceptors on their clinical rotations, gaining hands-on experience taking care of patients,” says Professor Hricz. “By the end of that 12-month period, they feel ready to go and take care of patients. They’re eager to learn and build on what they learned in PA school.”

    After lab, we catch up with Professor Hricz to hear his thoughts on how hands-on experiences with veteran faculty help prepare future PAs.

    Tell us about the students in the PA program. What are their backgrounds?

    Our students come from a variety of backgrounds. Many of them are straight out of undergraduate. Some of them have worked as emergency medical services personnel in the past, and we have a decent percentage that are nontraditional students who have done things outside medicine but desire to do something a little bit different. So they’ve decided to go back to school and enter our physician assistant program.

    Describe the PA program at MCPHS.

    It’s basically a sort of condensed medical school. In the didactic portion of the program, students are in the classroom five days a week listening to a number of lectures every day. Then, depending on the semester, we have labs that the students also will go to for more hands-on experience. The second year of their training in this particular program is all clinical rotations, where they’re out with a preceptor, taking care of patients and learning hands-on.

    Tell us about the simulation laboratory experience.

    The lab setting is similar to either medical offices or emergency rooms in that there’s usually a number of treatment areas, and we have similar equipment. We use the equipment in a variety of ways to simulate a number of different settings.

    How does that work?

    Once a week at least, we all come to the labs and work together as faculty and students in small groups and one-on-one scenarios. We present different types of scenarios to the students. We also use what we call sim patients, which are actors that we have come in from the community to simulate patients. This allows students to interview them and do physical exams on them, just to gain some different experience.

    What’s an example of the type of simulations the students experience?

    We use the laboratories for what we call patient assessment, which is where we teach students how to listen to the heart, listen to the lungs, look in the eyes, do neurologic exams. Then, we also use it for other hands-on training, like teaching the students how to suture and perform different procedures, injections, IVs – things along those lines. For example, we’re using it for our ACLS – advanced cardiac life support – training, which all the students are required to attend. We teach them how to do CPR and which drugs to use, and we provide them with interactive scenarios during those events.

    What are the faculty like?

    The quality of the staff here, I think, is excellent. We come from a variety of backgrounds and we each bring something different to the table. A lot of us still work clinically, so we can bring new ideas and new patient scenarios into the classroom as well. We’re trying to constantly add new ideas to the curriculum to give our students the best education possible.

    What’s your own personal experience with working clinically?

    I teach four days a week and then I work clinically usually one day a week in an emergency department. Depending on the semester, my lecture load may vary, but every semester we have lab times with the students. So I get to work with them one-on-one, or in small groups, in a setting that’s a little bit more intimate.

    The School of Physician Assistant Studies at MCPHS, which offers MPAS and DScPAS degrees, prepares graduates for meaningful and successful future careers as PAs. Students learn from the profession’s top educators in modern patient assessment laboratories with the most advanced technology available.