On the Front Lines

April 15, 2021

Physician assistant students are working with the Virginia Department of Health and Augusta Health to help provide COVID testing and vaccination in the local region.

There were many unknowns during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but from the very beginning one thing was clear: students and faculty at Mary Baldwin University’s Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences would be out on the front lines to serve members of the local community. 

One year later, MBU’s physician assistant (PA) program is an integral partner in the testing and vaccination effort in the region, working with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Augusta Health from Harrisonburg to Lexington. 

Soon, Murphy Deming will open its doors to train others to vaccinate local residents. 

Physician assistant students are working with the Virginia Department of Health and Augusta Health to help provide COVID testing and vaccination in the local region.

The college of health sciences followed VDH resources to certify the PA Class of 2022 as vaccine administrators and COVID testers. On several occasions, a third of the class has been sent to participate in mass vaccination sessions at regional facilities, vaccinating between 500 to 1,000 people each week. PA students and faculty were instrumental in mass testing at Murphy Deming and to bring residential MBU students back to the Staunton campus at the start of the spring semester.

“Our program is always looking for ways to give back to the community as we teach our students,” said Kent Diduch, director of MBU’s physician assistant program, adding that as soon as talk of a vaccine rollout began, the university reached out to the VDH to see how students could help. “We have given shots at the fairgrounds, at drive-through clinics, in middle school gyms, and on tennis courts at the hospital.”

The entire class — 28 students in all — have taken part.

As soon as talk of a vaccine rollout began, the university reached out to the Virginia Department of Health to see how students could help. “We have given shots at the fairgrounds, at drive-through clinics, in middle school gyms, and on tennis courts at the hospital,” said Kent Diduch, director of MBU’s physician assistant program.

For Sophia Cook MSPA ’22, the work is personal. Her grandfather is one of the millions of people who died from COVID within the past year.

“Having the opportunity to vaccinate and screen thousands of people in the local community feels like a profound step towards saving lives and giving back to the front-line workers who have been diligently combating this virus on a daily basis,” Cook said. 

Cook said it has been humbling to provide vaccinations and screening to people in the Shenandoah Valley as a PA student and the work reaffirmed her decision to pursue a career in health care. 

“The PA profession spoke to me because it would allow me to change lives and provide quality care to people in need, and that is exactly what our cohort and faculty have been doing in light of this pandemic,” Cook said. 

“Volunteering with the VDH and Augusta Health as vaccinators has been a really wonderful experience, and it’s been a true privilege to actively be a part in protecting our community against COVID,” said student Emma Lietz MSPA ’22. “Seeing how grateful and relieved folks are to receive their vaccine makes it even more meaningful.”

The entire Physician Assistant Class of 2022 has taken part in the effort; here students help with a testing clinic at a local nursing home.

The health department was so pleased with the Mary Baldwin effort that they have asked them to assist in teaching others, Diduch said. Faculty will participate in two vaccine training sessions scheduled this month at Murphy Deming. 

“We will open the doors of Murphy Deming on several occasions and train community volunteers,” Diduch said. “We will expand the pool of vaccinators even as we continue to staff vaccine clinics ourselves.”

Soon, the Class of 2023 PA students will also begin training to administer vaccines to carry the torch forward while the Class of 2022 prepares to begin their clinical training, Diduch said. 

“Having the opportunity to vaccinate and screen thousands of people in the local community feels like a profound step towards saving lives and giving back to the front-line workers who have been diligently combating this virus on a daily basis.”
Sophia Cook MSPA '22