Concordia Ann Arbor’s Physician Assistant students showcase a remarkable journey of compassion, from winning a charity drive to joining forces with other health professions, as they spread holiday cheer and make a meaningful impact on families in need.

CUAA’s Physician Assistant students have been actively engaging in volunteering, starting with their successful participation in the Michigan Academy of Physician Assistants (MAPA) conference’s charity drive. They raised an impressive $2,800 for sexual assault services at Bronson Hospital. Now, they’ve shifted their focus to the holiday season, partnering with the Adopt A Family for Christmas initiative. CUAA’s Physician Assistant (PA) students has partnered with the Adopt A Family for Christmas initiative, adopting a family with three girls and one baby boy. When the Occupational and Physical Therapy students heard about the PA students’ efforts, they enthusiastically joined in. Together, these three programs have extended their support to another family, comprising four children—three girls and one boy. With this collaborative effort, they are spreading even more holiday cheer and ensuring that both families have the chance to enjoy a brighter Christmas!

Michigan Academy of Physician Assistants Award

Their first volunteer project was on October 13, 2023 was the day for the PA students from all the Michigan PA programs to compete at the MI Academy of Physician Assistants (MAPA) conference. MAPA has a charity drive every year and students are tasked with raising money for the chosen charity, buying items to donate to that charity and creating a display table with a specific theme for those items. The charity is selected by the current president of MAPA. This year’s charity, as selected by MAPA President Ashley Malliett, was for sexual assault services at Bronson Hospital, an organization which aids victims of child abuse. Within 3 weeks, the students raised $2,800 (total $12,000 collected by 9 MI PA schools). That is almost 23% of the total collected. They went all out on their display which had a jungle theme, including dressing up as animals and playing wildlife noises during the judging. The students won the award for the best charity drive display.

“I could not be prouder of their hard work, their eagerness and willingness to serve others, especially for those who most often do not have a voice,” said Carol Piesik, PA Program Director.

The judge was a woman from the charity, and she had her emotional support dog, Chewy, with her during the judging. The students had a basket of little labs in training wearing yellow vests (signifying new to training) and Chewy wore his blue vest (signifying completion of training). When asked why she chose CUAA, she said that she enjoyed the student involvement in their animal costumes, the wildlife noises playing from one of the student’s phones during the judging and she was touched by the nod to the emotional support puppies/dogs included in the display.

“This is the future of medicine! I can confidently say that we are all in good hands,” said Piesik. “The trophy is ours to show off for the next year.”

Combined Efforts

Upon deciding to spread holiday cheer, the PA Board took the initiative and submitted an application to Adopt a Family through the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Successfully matched with their first family consisting of four children, the OT and PT programs expressed a keen interest in joining the cause. Consequently, students from all three programs were matched with an additional family of four children. To streamline the process and ensure comprehensive coverage, Marcella Caruso, a first-year PA student, organized a Google Sheets document for everyone to update their contributions. The preference lists provided details ranging from essential household items like bed sheets and cleaning supplies to toys for the children, ensuring a thoughtful and well-rounded support for the adopted families.

“It does not really matter how many items we purchase, but we have been going above and beyond, and we are making sure everything they want and need has been purchased,” said Caruso.

Building a Sense of Community Within Health Professions

While actively supporting the two families this Christmas, the collaboration among OT, PT, and PA students has highlighted the significance of fostering a community spirit across the programs. The joint efforts have not only brought the three programs closer together but have also uplifted morale just before finals.

Caruso emphasized, “This not only really solidifies how we will be working together towards a common goal as health care providers but brings us together as a community at Concordia University.”

Jessi Taylor, a first-year PA student, further highlighted the profound importance of being in healthcare — to assist others and make a positive difference in their lives. The shared dedication to a common purpose reinforces the sense of community and purpose among the healthcare programs at Concordia University.

“We are in these professions for a reason: to help others, and that stems from the idea of having the same goal and intentions.”

Making a Difference

The collective endeavor to ensure these families have presents for Christmas has created a sense of accomplishment and well-being among all the students. The knowledge that they are making a meaningful difference in the lives of these families is the most fulfilling reward they could ask for.

“If you are in a position to help others, I think you should do everything you can to express that and show it,” said Taylor.

The most remarkable aspect of the entire project is the widespread eagerness to assist those in need. What initially began with the PA program adopting a family expanded into an opportunity to adopt another family. Furthermore, it evolved into a broader initiative involving the entire School of Health Professions, enabling them to support yet another family.

“This is something that is never going to change, no matter the time of year or holiday; we are committed to helping people and extending this outreach to others in Health Professions,” said Taylor. “Especially now that we know they are interested in what we are doing, we want to open it up to all the professions.”

Learn more?

Consider pursuing your Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPAS) at Concordia University Ann Arbor (CUAA) for advanced training in collaborative healthcare. PAs at CUAA work alongside MDs or DOs, providing comprehensive patient care. The program emphasizes diversity, equity, and inclusion and aims to produce competent medical providers with a focus on primary medicine in underserved areas. CUAA has secured funding to support students during rural clinical rotations. Join us in shaping compassionate and respectful healthcare practitioners.

—This story is written by Keara Chaperon, Social Media Manager for Concordia University Ann Arbor and Concordia University Wisconsin. She may be reached at