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Physician Assistant Student Wins National Scholarship
Christine Boyer will serve in a high-need area after graduation as part of the National Health Service Corps.
September 12, 2012
As a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural village in Kenya, Christine Boyer worked at outreach clinics providing well-child screening and prenatal care.
It was there that she saw firsthand the power of primary care. The experience prompted her to apply and enroll in George Washington University’s Physician Assistant Program – a two-year program that prepares students to work in a clinical setting under the direction of a physician.
“I have a real passion for primary care,” Ms. Boyer said. “I think it’s a huge need that should be met.”
A native of Newport, Ore. – a small town of about 10,000 people – Ms. Boyer saw a physician assistant (PA) for her primary care during high school because there was a shortage of physicians. Throughout her four years of high school, Ms. Boyer developed a strong rapport with her PA, who always provided high-quality patient-centered care – something that made a strong impression on Ms. Boyer, who would later study biology at Willamette University in Salem, Ore.
Having seen the need for medical care in underserved communities, Ms. Boyer knew she would want to work in such an area after finishing GW’s PA program. This desire drove her to apply for the National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program, which awards scholarships to students pursuing primary health care professions in exchange for working in a high-need health professional shortage area.
The application process is highly competitive as the scholarship program is open to medical, dental, nurse practitioner and physician assistant students. While the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – the agency that houses the National Health Service Corps – has not announced how many scholarships they’ve awarded or how many applications they received this year, last year only 250 students out of 3,000 applicants received the scholarship, said Ms. Boyer.
Three months into her first year of the PA program after planning to pay for school through student loans, Ms. Boyer learned she had not only received a full scholarship but also a monthly living stipend.
“The scholarship is going to allow me to work in my dream job without worrying about if I will be able to pay back my loans,” she said. “Because primary care, especially in medically underserved areas, tends to have lower clinician salaries, the scholarship goes a long way to ease the financial burden of working in this lower salaried field.”
Ms. Boyer’s choosing to provide primary care for underserved populations reinforces the mission of the George Washington PA program, said Lisa Alexander, program director of physician assistant studies.
“We're extremely happy for her, especially since we know that the competition for such scholarships is significant,” said Dr. Alexander. “This recognition rewards her commitment to primary care and serving under-resourced communities.”
Ms. Boyer chose GW’s PA program in part because of its reputation for community service through activities like the Healing Clinic – a volunteer clinic operated by GW students that provides primary care to underserved patients in the Howard/Shaw and Anacostia neighborhoods regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.
“The faculty is absolutely amazing and is very invested in the students doing well and excelling in the program,” said Ms. Boyer. “And there’s an emphasis on giving back to medically underserved communities.”
National Health Service Corps scholarship awardees serve in high-need areas for a minimum of two years after graduation, and Ms. Boyer hopes to work in a rural clinic.
“To me, getting this scholarships means that I will get to work in the specialty that I have always wanted to work in: primary care, and with the patient population I have always wanted to work with: the medically underserved,” said Ms. Boyer.
Brooke Stein, a physician assistant student and president of the James K. Tolton Society – GW’s student chapter of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, said Ms. Boyer is “more than deserving of the scholarship.”
“Christine embodies the GW PA Program with her intelligence, compassion, intuition and genuine dedication to serving the primary care needs of the underserved in this country, and she will undoubtedly be an excellent advocate and resource for the communities she will serve after graduation,” Ms. Stein said.
Although Ms. Boyer only has to serve two years in an underserved community, she hopes she will continue to have the opportunity to work in these areas after fulfilling the National Health Service Corps requirement. And ultimately she hopes to be able to get back to Kenya and work in family practice.
“Kenya became my home when I was there. I was part of the community, and I loved it there,” she said. “I had the chance to see the huge impact that a community clinic can have on its patients, and I would love to go back and be part of that again, working together and empowering people to improve their health.”