Claire Elizabeth Provenzano suffered painful broken bones and endured surgeries as a gymnast growing up in Kansas.
Sparking her interest in the medical field were teams of dedicated nurses and doctors Claire met during her 13 years competing.
Fast forward to May 2020. The Wichita native is among 36 graduate students enrolled in the newest class at Mississippi College’s physician assistant program. There are 27 women and nine men comprising the latest cohort class.
Seventeen of the new graduate students are Mississippians. Five each are from Texas and Louisiana. Two each are from California and Oregon. There is one student each from Tennessee, Florida, Arizona, Georgia and Kansas.
The rigorous 30-month program is based at the Baptist Healthplex. The bulk of the classes are now taught online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Although COVID-19 did not inspire me to be a PA, it has shown me the incredible cohesiveness of healthcare providers,” Provenzano said.
A former Wichita State University cheerleader, Claire earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry/business at the Kansas school in May 2017. She graduated with a perfect 4.0 average with her master’s in medical sciences at Mississippi College in December 2018. The 25-year-old loved the atmosphere at the Christian university in Clinton.
“I was really amazed by the faith community MC embraces so openly,” Claire said.
Her dad, Dr. John Provenzano, helped her move nearly 700 miles from Wichita, Kansas to Clinton. He also offered encouragement to his daughter to pursue a medical career. Dr. Provenzano is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in the dental field. The past 18 months, Claire worked at MC as a teaching assistant in gross anatomy classes. “I am so thankful for all of the opportunities MC gifted me.”
Claire Provenzano is part of the largest cohort class since the Baptist-affiliated university began its PA program in 2011. Graduate students are trained to become medical professionals under the supervision of physicians. MC’s program is linked to the University of Mississippi Medical Center and clinics in the region.
One of Claire’s classmates, Robert Belmont, 23, earned his MC bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in philosophy in May. As a high school student in Mandeville, Louisiana, he wanted to attend a university emphasizing high academic standards and a faith-based community. He’s been impressed since day one.
Mississippi College, Belmont said, has proven to be “a source of encouragement and motivation to pour back into the community.”
Cancer impacted his family a great deal. It’s why he wants to become a physician assistant in the field of pediatric oncology. Before joining MC’s graduate program, he logged 2,000 direct care hours as a Louisiana medical assistant. Robert’s got strong connections to the university. His wife, Olivia, is a 2019 MC graduate and a teacher at Northside Elementary in Clinton.
After a two-day orientation, Robert Belmont began classes May 20 in the midst of a global health emergency. “The pandemic definitely motivates me to work harder now so I can make a difference in the future.”
Dr. Steve Martin, director of MC’s physician assistant program, is pleased to welcome the new students. “The graduates will play an important role in helping address many needs” in Mississippi and other states.
MC’s program typically enrolls 90 students overall. Some of the university’s PA graduates are on the frontlines treating COVID-19 patients at hospitals across the USA.