Eliana Zachter, a student in the M.S. in Physician Assistant Studies program.

By Dave DeFusco

When Eliana Zachter, a student in the Katz School’s M.S. in Physician Assistant Studies, was prepping for a cesarean section with her surgical team at Bellevue Hospital, she was warned by the resident physician that there’d be a lot of blood. But Zachter, who in high school had volunteered on her own in a hospital’s neonatal intensive care and maternity units, was unfazed.

Under bright and unnatural hospital lights, Zachter placed a retractor through an incision the surgeon had made in the patient’s lower abdomen and then held it open with her hands to provide the surgeon clear access to the woman’s uterus.

“There was so much going on all at once, but the Katz School PA program prepared me for that moment,” said Zachter. “I was zoned in using my clinical skills and medical knowledge and, at the same time, fully conscious of the patient lying awake on the table.”

The procedure was quick, and then came the siren scream—a healthy boy had entered the world. As the surgeon stitched her up, with Zachter’s assistance, she yelled out the baby’s height and weight—seven-pounds, six-ounces—to a jubilant, if weary, mother and her partner.

“As the baby was being delivered, I couldn’t believe I was doing it. I was part of bringing life into this world,” said Zachter. “It was unbelievable, honestly, because it’s such a miracle. I was interested before in pursuing a career in women’s health, but this experience confirmed it.”

The Katz School M.A. in Physician Assistant Studies consists of a year in the classroom, then a year of 10 clinical rotations. Core clinical rotations include family medicine, primary care, internal medicine, general surgery, emergency medicine, women’s health, pediatrics and behavioral health. Clinical electives cover a wide variety of medical and surgical specialties.

The education follows a medical model, with emphasis on data gathering, diagnosis and treatment. After passing a national certification exam, physician assistants practice under a supervising doctor. Physician assistants, or P.A.s, have been performing an ever-expanding number of medical duties, from the most basic primary care to the most high-technology surgical procedures.

“One of the things I like about the field is the flexibility,” said Zachter. “There are a number of specialties, and the patient care is more personalized. You get to know your patients, and it’s a level of patient care that I love.”

Zachter credits Clinical Professor Fayrose Abodeshisha’s Patient Evaluation course with preparing her to be direct but empathetic with patients in difficult situations. During one clinical rotation, Zachter helped a resident physician inform a shocked middle-aged woman that she had metastatic uterine cancer.

“It was a very difficult day, but I think it’s important to go through them because it’s the reality of medicine,” said Zachter. “The clinical skills are of course indispensable, but it’s equally important to be there for patients when they need you.”

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