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Persistence is Paramount for Accelerated Physician Assistant Student

February 15, 2016

Even as a high school student, Dylan Stempel ’17 knew he wanted to be a physician assistant (PA) and wasn’t going to let anything get in his way. Stempel, a Connecticut native, was determined not only to expose himself to the PA profession, but to find the most efficient path to becoming one.

“I spent a lot of time in high school shadowing PAs, especially in the emergency room,” said Stempel, recalling some of his earliest interactions with PAs. “If I met any PAs at the hospital I would approach them and ask if I could spend some time watching them.” This kind of interaction is characteristic of Stempel – decisive, self-motivated and focused – traits that are evident in even a brief conversation.

Stempel remembers an instance when he asked a PA he was shadowing for career advice, to which the PA answered, ‘find a program that trims the fat and gets you the education and experience you need in the shortest amount of time.’ From there, Stempel began his quest for accelerated PA programs, which ultimately landed him at Drexel.

Having done his research, Stempel knew the path to becoming a PA wouldn’t be easy and would require lots of determination. One of the most significant and cumbersome requirements for Drexel’s program – at least 500 patient contact hours – can prove to be daunting for most. For Stempel, he saw this as an opportunity to coalesce his desire to become a PA and the reality of actually being one.

“I worked as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) in high school, primarily in ambulances,” said Stempel. “I took a three-month-long class through my local fire department to get certified, and from there started working.” Stempel attributes his certification as an EMT as the primary method for obtaining his patient contact hours, and for gaining comprehensive healthcare-focused experience prior to coming to Drexel.

After Stempel decided that Drexel and the Accelerated PA Program were right for him he knew he needed – and wanted – to continue earning more patient contact hours. “I decided to join Drexel’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) volunteer organization to complete my patient contact hours and stay connected to the experiential side of my education,” said Stempel. “I knew that the graduate portion of my program was very challenging to get in to so I wanted to do everything I could to increase my chances of getting accepted.”

In addition to accruing patient contact hours through Drexel EMS, Stempel volunteered as much as possible and focused on science and math courses. “ The first couple years of classes were very challenging,” said Stempel, “but it’s definitely paid off.”

The spring and summer terms of Stempel’s junior year – his Co-op – were spent with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in a genetics department.  Stempel’s position at CHOP was multi-faceted and enabled him to serve as a medical assistant half of the time and help doctors write their notes the other half. Stempel believes his co-op was incredibly beneficial now that he’s begun his first year of graduate school and is focusing more on medical education.

“Academics have really intensified during the second term of the program,” said Stempel, who now spends between 5 – 6 hours outside of class for every hour spent in class. But, despite all the hard work, there is a silver lining that’s easy for students to spot.

 “You can definitely tell that the first priority of the faculty is making sure you get through the program,” said Stempel, reflecting on his positive experience with PA professors. He believes the PA community to be a very tight-knit yet hard-working community that welcomed him with open arms.

“I’m one of the younger students in the program,” said Stempel, “but I’ve felt myself mature by working so closely with my classmates who bring their previous work and life experience to the table.”

In addition to learning from his classmates, Stempel is eager to return to the clinical portion of his program beginning next September. Drexel’s PA program offers clinical training in six key areas: medicine, surgery, women’s health, pediatrics, emergency medicine and behavioral health. Once all rotations are complete, students embark on two term-long preceptorships focused on primary care. Preceptorships are aligned with the program’s goal of training PAs that might ultimately focus on primary care in medically underserved areas, or with vulnerable populations.

“It’s great to learn about certain populations in class then be able to volunteer with them in the field,” said Stempel, reflecting on the partnerships the PA program has with veteran, immigrant and homeless organizations. Stempel, like most students who choose Drexel, prefers a model of education that focuses on learning then doing, and his experience at Drexel has provided him with countless opportunities to do just that.

At the end of the day, Stempel is grateful for the education and experience he’s received. In an effort to pay it forward he offered the following advice to aspiring PAs: “As an undergrad, do things that keep you excited about your program during the first couple of years. Even though the knowledge pays off, you have to stay connected to the clinical aspects of your education, so work and volunteer as much as you can.”