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ECU physician assistant student elected to national board

By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services

Melissa Ricker. Photo by Cliff Hollis
GREENVILLE, N.C.   (June 14, 2012)   —   Melissa Ricker, an East Carolina University graduate student, has been elected to the 2012-2013 board of directors of the Student Academy of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Ricker, of Goldsboro, is the first student from ECU and North Carolina to represent the Southeast region and its 38 schools.

Ten students are elected annually as the governing body for physician assistant students enrolled at more than 160 colleges and universities nationwide. Those students, along with three appointed members and two graduate advisors, help make administrative decisions, suggests ways for schools to improve their physician assistant student societies, and encourages participation in local and national events.

“I want to use my creativity and passion for getting students involved,” Ricker said. “Professional development for us as students is really important to complement the education we get in the classroom and brings about greater appreciation for the profession.”

Ricker will focus on increasing student membership in the organization and awareness about events and issues. She will participate by email, quarterly conference calls, and at a regional meeting in Washington, D.C., this fall.

“It’s a huge honor and I feel very privileged to have gotten elected this year,” she said. “It’s exciting to bring some recognition to ECU.”

ECU offers the only state-supported physician assistant studies program in North Carolina. The program began in 1996. Ricker’s class has 32 students, and enrollment varies from 30-35 students each year, making it one of the smallest member schools in the AAPA.

A current issue for the academy is a possible profession title change, from physician assistant to physician associate. “It’s pretty 50/50; most students are for it,” Ricker said. “But there is concern about what the legislation could address besides a name change.”      

Ricker said she doesn’t believe a name change should be considered at this time. “A lot of people don’t know what PAs are. I think our energy and effort should be put toward expanding the profession as a whole,” she said.

Physician assistants work in all areas from emergency medicine to pediatrics to geriatrics. They often are the first point of contact for many patients, particularly in rural areas. They are academically and clinically prepared to diagnose and treat disease, assist in surgery, and prescribe medications with the direction of a supervising physician.

Ricker was elected at the group’s national conference in Toronto on Memorial Day weekend. She represented the department and College of Allied Health Sciences with fellow ECU students Allison Tiffany and Ashley Murr.

Ricker is the external affairs chair for her class, and helped plan a successful physician assistant awareness week last fall and a cornhole fundraising tournament this spring. Students also will be volunteering at Survivor’s Day at the Leo Jenkins Cancer Center later this month, and will help with new student orientation in August.

“From her first day on campus, Melissa has shown her willingness and commitment to the PA profession,” said Jane Trapp, ECU clinical associate professor of physician assistant studies. “Her drive and determination has not stopped since then, as she has embraced her profession with the goal for continual improvement and to lend a helping hand wherever it is needed. Melissa has demonstrated true qualities of what it is to be a professional, and her passion for caring and advancing the profession will undoubtedly continue beyond her tenure at ECU.”

Ricker, who received a bachelor’s degree in biology from N.C. State University, will begin her clinical education in Wilmington in January. She expects to graduate in December 2013, and hopes to work in family medicine.


Contact: Crystal Baity | 252-744-3764