Cassidy McCandless, MS, RD, is the sole champion of the 2022 PAS Student of the Year, determined by the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA).
McCandless received this honor in May 2022 at a conference attended by hundreds of PA students and professionals from across the nation.
When she initially had been told that she won, McCandless couldn’t believe that it was real.
“I was on campus in one of the study rooms. I returned a missed phone call from a random number and was convinced there had been a mistake.”
The first person she called to share the news? Her PAS advisor, Nathan Miracle.
“I had been stressing out about the whole process for so long and all the while he was in my corner, constantly cheering me on,” McCandless said. “So were my family and friends, of course, but my advisor had a front-row seat the entire time.”
One out of 10,000
The AAPA PA Student of the Year is chosen at the end of a lengthy selection process.
In order to be considered, students must:
- Be nominated by a faculty member or peer.
- Get contacted from someone from the AAPA.
- Submit information, including a resume, details of volunteer experience, two short essays about the future of the PA profession, as well as describing where you see yourself fitting into the profession.
There are over 280 PAS programs throughout the United States with the average class size being roughly 30 students per program. In any given year, there are about 10,000 PAS students per class.
“There are so many unique and talented people within our program. It easily could’ve been someone else,” McCandless humbly stated.
“I’m in no way the best PAS student. I just happened to meet the requirements for the AAPA board’s criteria and had some luck. With that being said, I’m thankful that I was chosen.”
Meeting her fans
The craziest thing to happen since being chosen? The recognition she’s received within her local and PA community.
“My friends came up to me and told me that I was on the front page of a local newspaper,” McCandless shared. “I had no idea where to even buy a newspaper. I found a stack at my nearest gas station and ended up buying three because I was so excited.”
McCandless was also rendered speechless upon meeting Hayley Arceneaux, one of her idols. Arceneaux was the medical officer on the 2021 SpaceX flight, an astronaut PA, and the youngest American to fly in space.
Her future in the PA profession
With this prestigious honor under her belt, McCandless has had many new doors open to benefit her career as a PA.
“I’ve been contacted by so many people and presented with some amazing job and volunteer opportunities after being recognized for this award.”
McCandless began her medical career as a dietician. Her hope is to blend her new career as a PA with her background in dietetics.
“Everybody always assumes that if you change professions, there’s something wrong with it. But for me, it was the opposite. I want to further my impact to reach a larger community.” McCandless said. “I wanted to learn more and become more involved with patient care.”
The AAPA Student of the Year award gave McCandless the platform she needed to shed light on the issues with nutrition in healthcare, as well as the need for greater diversity within the world of medicine.
“Becoming a PA allows me to share my nutrition background with my colleagues and patients,” McCandless said. “I hope to open the door for a more nutritious approach to medicine.”