Real-world work helps residents grow

Resident. For many, the term conjures up images of overworked young medical professionals on TV shows like ER and Grey’s Anatomy, fraught with drama and filled with little substance. But for two of the top professional programs at Marquette — physical therapy and physician assistant studies — the reality is much different.

These highly competitive post-graduate residencies prepare physician assistants and physical therapists for specialty practice by giving them advanced clinical skills and the significant hands-on experience they need before entering the profession.

“In today’s competitive job market, unique learning experiences like these can make the difference in the hiring process,” says Dr. Mary Jo Wiemiller, chair of physician assistant studies and program director of the emergency medicine residency. “After completing their residency, these post-grads demonstrate a sought-after and highly refined technical skillset.”

For physician assistant studies, that technical skillset is acquired in two post-graduate residencies: a primary care program in partnership with the Zablocki VA Hospital — in its second year — and an emergency medicine program with Aurora Sinai Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin — in its fifth year.

In addition to traditional medical training, PA primary care residents receive specialized instruction in topics relevant to veterans, including care for hepatitis C, posttraumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and military culture.

PA residents in the emergency medicine program spend six months training in emergency medicine at Aurora Sinai; three months training in pediatrics in the Children’s Hospital emergency department; one month training in Aurora’s ICU; and two months training in elective rotations, including radiology, obstetrics, anesthesia, cardiology and orthopedic surgery.

“It’s intensive,” says Adam Hermsen, a physician assistant who completed the emergency medicine residency. “You’re able to hone the skills learned in school but also become comfortable caring for patients, from newborns to the elderly, who are dealing with life-threatening conditions.”

When Dr. Tina Stoeckmann, clinical associate professor of physical therapy and neurological residency program coordinator, and Dr. Larry Pan, chair of the Physical Therapy Department, worked to start the PT residency program, it was the VA system’s first neurological residency and only the eighth neurological residency for PTs in the United States.

“We’ve developed a neurologically focused faculty in physical therapy,” Pan says. “Once you have one or two specialists, they attract others. We chose to build off that.”

“It’s a matter of being smart about where you’re strongest and starting there,” Stoeckmann adds.

Similar to the physician assistant residency, physical therapy residents rotate through various specialties, including acute inpatient rehab, spinal cord rehab and outpatient neurology and experiences with pediatrics and traumatic brain injury. The residents are also involved in weekly mentoring sessions and didactic course work, as well as monthly and bi-monthly specialty clinics, all of which directly translate into advanced career skills.

“I get letters all the time from employers looking for graduates who have completed our residency program,” says Stoeckmann. “Employers want someone with that additional training because they have the extra tools they need.”

It’s also reflected in national rankings and more. Both programs are highly ranked by U.S. News & World Report — physical therapy is 12th overall, and physician assistant studies is 43rd. Graduates of both programs have extremely high first-time pass rates on their licensure tests and a 100 percent ultimate pass rate. Both have 100 percent job placement rates.

“The increase in the desire for residency programs and the need for specialists is steep and growing, and we’re on the front end of that,” says Pan. “It’s exciting for Marquette to be an innovator in the field.”

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