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Emily McCoy, PA-C, ’16: A Family Legacy of Patient Care Inspires a Physician Assistant Career


You could say the medical profession has always been in Emily McCoy’s genes. Her family tree is rooted with doctors, surgeons and nurses; including two grandfathers, a doctor and surgeon, her father and brother, practicing surgeons, and two sisters – all in the health care field. With a family devoted to helping people, McCoy quickly realized she wanted to be involved with patient care.

As a child, she would accompany her father as he did rounds on the weekends at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, CA, a place she has always considered a second home. “My father was always supportive of me and my five brothers and sisters, but he also never pressured us to follow in his footsteps,” she said. “He wanted us to find a profession that we found fulfilling and gave us a good work/life balance.”

When she was in high school, McCoy met her father’s first PA and knew she had stumbled on to the perfect path for her health care career. “I knew that being a PA would allow me to care for patients on a direct level without accruing years of medical school debt,” she said. “I’d be able to start practicing right after PA school and still have the opportunity to start my own family down the road – with a balance between my personal and professional life.”

After graduating from Chapman University in May 2013 with a BS in health sciences, McCoy applied to the School of PA Studies at Marshall B. Ketchum University.

“The Ketchum PA program was an amazing experience and one that I will always be grateful for,” she shared. “As the first class of PA students, our group was small and extremely close knit, and we pushed each other to set a high standard of success for future classes.”

At the MBKU graduation in 2016, twenty-seven Master of Medical Science degrees and PA certificates were conferred. McCoy, who served as student representative on the board for the California Academy of PAs, delivered the class of 2016 graduation address along with her classmate, Ben Hicks. After graduation, McCoy and her 26 classmates all went on to tackle their PA National Certifying Exams with a 100% PANCE pass rate.

Sandra Fineman, PA-C, Professor and Director of Clinical Education at MBKU, hosted a celebration to commemorate the perfect pass rate – bringing together students, faculty and friends to acknowledge the inaugural 2016 class and their collective accomplishment.

After graduation and board certification, McCoy was hired by St. Jude Medical Center as a PA in hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgery working with patients who are battling liver and pancreatic cancers and other diseases. “The patients we typically see are very sick and usually have multiple comorbidities that make them difficult to manage,” she said. “I’m constantly relying on my PA education and clinical experience to help me treat the whole patient from head-to-toe.”

With her PA background, McCoy is able to assist in surgeries, and manage patients both in the inpatient and outpatient setting, which she finds to be the perfect balance. In her time at St. Jude, she has been able to assist in surgeries, such as the Whipple procedure, or pancreaticoduodenectomy, which is the most commonly performed surgery to remove tumors in the pancreas.

“St. Jude’s is such a great fit for me personally because they have the same sense of family and community that I value,” McCoy said. “The surgeons I work with remind me of my teachers at Ketchum … always willing to answer questions, provide direction and help me to continually improve my skills.”

Even as she continues into her professional career, McCoy hopes to reunite with her fellow classmates and further her education and professional development as a member of both the California and National Physician Assistants Associations. Every year, the California Academy of PAs (CAPA), holds an annual conference in August at which Ketchum hosts an alumni reception to bring its former students together again. The American Academy of PAs (AAPA), also brings alumni together by hosting their annual conference in a different state every year.

“As the first PA class to graduate from MBKU, I think we have a duty and obligation to be ambassadors of the school … to share what we learned, our experiences at the program and how our education there has helped shape our careers,” she said. “I am always happy to talk with someone about the career opportunities as a PA and how Ketchum has set the bar as a leader in training the next generation of PAs.”

As a new alumna, McCoy is looking forward to giving back to MBKU and the next generation of graduates. “While the PA program at Ketchum was challenging and stressful, the professors there really helped us navigate the courses, throughout our didactic studies and our clinical rotations,” she said. “I definitely plan on returning someday, as my experience grows, and either lecture, teach or provide a clinical rotation opportunity to students.”

In the meantime, she is excited about the road ahead … learning new things every day, not only from the nurses, doctors and PAs around her, but also from the patients that she comes in contact with each visit. She brings her strong sense of community and family to her patient care – providing them with the knowledge, skills and compassion she learned during her years at Ketchum.

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