The question begins to float over the hushed room: "Name the triad seen in …" Before the question is finished, a bell rings out and a student shouts, "Felty syndrome!"
Another question begins: "Delta waves on an EKG si …" and another bell rings and a student shouts, "Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome!"
This was the scene as Central Michigan University physician assistant graduate students prepared recently for the program's trip to the American Academy of Physician Assistants National Medical Challenge Bowl in New Orleans, which began May 21. It's CMU's second trip to the national competition.
"It is really exciting to go up and represent my class," said team member Rebecca Kahn, of Mount Pleasant. "Plus, preparing for the competitions helps you prepare for your Physician Assistant National Certification Exam."
That's the exam that, over the past five years, 94 percent of all CMU physician assistant graduates passed on their first attempt — 97 percent last year.
Sending a team to a nationwide competition not only gives the students an unforgettable hands-on experience, it also boosts the national reputation of an already strong program, said physician assistant program director Scott Massey.
"My ultimate goal is that this program will be recognized as a national program of excellence, one of the top-tier programs in the country." – Scott Massey, program director
He notes that more than 90 percent of students from the past three graduating classes have secured jobs before graduation, 80 percent of them in Michigan.
"I want to get people excited about the national involvement of students and understand the bigger picture," said Massey, who is finishing his first year at the helm.
Training for the quiz
Massey saw potential when the quiz team took first place last fall in the Michigan Physician Assistant Foundation's PA Student Challenge Bowl.
"I think this is one of the strongest teams I have ever seen, so I thought that they have a really good chance of winning the nationals this year. This is a tradition that we are going to have going forward."
CMU's team of second-year master's degree students trained for nine months, working practices in between classes and rotations. Massey picked several thousand medical facts and symptoms for them to memorize, starting with several hundred last fall.
Practices pit his four-student nationals team against other physician assistant students in a "Jeopardy" format, with a bell in place of a buzzer.
"You have to be really quick on the trigger with the facts," Massey said. "It's all about timing and speed. They have to listen very closely, and the second they know the answer, they have to ring. They also have to be confident enough to take chances."
Massey is out to build enthusiasm for his vision.
"My ultimate goal is that this program will be recognized as a national program of excellence, one of the top-tier programs in the country."
That push aligns with the goals of Thomas Masterson, dean of The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions, who is excited about the national competition.
"What great exposure for CMU, our students and our program," Masterson said.
To expand the physician assistant program's reputation and name recognition, students need to be more involved nationally, Massey said.
"Programs that are always recognized as national programs of excellence have faculty that are engaged nationally, they present published work nationally, their students are engaged nationally. All of those things will enhance and broaden our applicant pool."
Kahn joined the team after finishing well in an audition quiz against classmates.
Quizzing is a bonus for Kahn, who chose to get her P.A. education at CMU after getting her undergraduate degree in child development here.
"I had friends who had gone through the program, so I knew the program was positive, the graduation rates were impeccable and that people passed their exam."
Teammate Matthew Maas, of Flushing, Michigan, also entered the program after receiving his undergraduate degree here in exercise science.
Maas was impressed by the rankings and decided that "if I can get into the awesome physician assistant program, why not stick around?"
Also on the team, both from Michigan, are Andrew Johnson, of Brighton, and Alexa Tremmel, of Warren.