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Meet our Students, Graduates, and Preceptors

Alumni Spotlight: Sandra Kuester, PA-C and Lilliam Samour, PA-C

This month’s Alumni Spotlight focuses on two of our CHA/PA Alumni, Sandra Kuester, PA-C and Lilliam Samour, PA-C. They were recipients of the Career Teaching Scholars award for 2023. Both Sandra and Lilliam are Clinical Professors of Pediatrics and were recognized for their outstanding contributions to pediatric education. We had the chance to interview Sandra and Lilliam so they could share some highlights about their careers.

Sandra was always interested in pediatrics and after meeting a student while she was teaching, prior to becoming a PA, she was introduced to the CHA/PA program. She decided to apply and never looked back.  Sandra has been at Denver Health for almost 23.5 years, the last 8 years in the Nursery and prior to that she spent the first 15 yrs in the NICU and Nursery.  Her very first day of work, she had a PA student, and a 4th year medical student to precept.  She says they definitely learned a lot from each other that day!  And since that day, almost every work day is filled with Residents, PA students, Med students, Nursing students and occasionally Paramedic Students, which fills her with joy!  The legacy Sandra hopes to leave is that having the opportunity to take care of the newest beings on earth, and getting to spend time teaching and learning from the next generation of Medical Providers is a joy and a privilege!  Sandra says she has a wonderful career, and she has been lucky enough to spend her entire career working with her Best Friend, Lilliam, after meeting in PA School.

Lilliam became interested in becoming a PA after talking to a college friend that had been accepted into CHA/PA while Lilliam was working in the hotel industry. During a clinical rotation at Denver Health in her 3rd year, Lilliam was recruited by another CHA/PA graduate to work in the nursery/NICU. After 13 years of working in both the nursery and the NICU, she eventually moved to working only in the nursery and has been there for the last 10 years.  Teaching has always been her passion and they teach all types of learners (CHA/PA students, Pediatric and Family medicine residents, medical students, nursing students and paramedics) on a daily basis at Denver Health.  Lilliam never thought she'd leave a legacy, but she hopes that a few of her students will find a small piece of her teaching and knowledge useful in their careers.  Finally, one of the things that Lilliam is most proud of is getting to work alongside her two best friends her entire career (all CHA/PA alumni) that have a combined 75 years of experience between the 3 of them. 

We are proud to have passionate CHA/PA alumni like Sandra and Lilliam teaching our current CHA/PA students and having such a large impact in educating so many different healthcare providers. 



Alumni Spotlight/Faculty Welcome: Meet Rachel Hess

This month’s Alumni Spotlight is also a Faculty Welcome showcasing CHA/PA Alumni, Rachel Hess, class of 2001. Rachel is CHA/PA’s newest faculty member and we’re excited to share more about her.  Rachel grew up in Chicago but came to Colorado for undergraduate at Colorado College. After graduation, she remained in Colorado, until she figured out she was supposed to work in medicine. After completing her science pre-requisites, Rachel was accepted to the CHA/PA program in 1998 and joined the same cohort as Jonathan Bowser and Roberta Knott. Rachel Hess_2

Rachel worked in family practice for 22 years, broadening out to community health in 2014. She served patients from cradle-to-grave, did OB/GYN care, outpatient, inpatient, home visits and outreach clinics. She loves working with underserved populations in community health and everything about medical practice. Rachel also realized that to be an effective provider, it’s vital to connect with patients, learn about their circumstances and barriers to care, and work with them to formulate health plans that merge patient priorities and best practices.   

Serving as a preceptor for PA, NP, and MS3/4 students, helped her realize that she loved working with learners because it re-kindled her love for the art and science of medical practice through their eyes.  In 2023, she took the next step and applied to teach at the CHA/PA program that had prepared her so well for her long and happy career. 

Rachel will be co-directing the GGR block and directing Endo/Repro. She is very excited to learn the craft of medical education from the faculty and the students and looks forward to sharing her clinical knowledge and experiential pearls to help CHA/PA students become the competent, confident, and compassionate PAs of the future. 

In her personal life, Rachel is married to a great guy and has 2 amazing kids – Sophie (21) going to college and Thoren (16) in high school.  She loves to travel, hike, rock-climb and ski. She also does a lot of cooking and knitting, usually while listening to some nerdy-science podcast.  We are excited to have Rachel in the CHA/PA family.

Alumni Spotlight: Meet Brandon Nuechterlein

We are excited to feature Class of 2009 CHA/PA Alumni, Brandon Nuechterlein. Brandon has a special story, which has fueled his work as a PA. Enjoy what he has shared about his journey below:

“I joined the bone marrow transplant program (BMT) at Children’s Colorado in 2009 as a new grad from the CHA/PA program. For the first ten years of my career, I was the inpatient anchor. Additionally, I helped to create a BMT specific late effects clinic and ran that clinic for almost a decade. I really enjoy teaching and have trained over 100 fellows, residents, and APP’s over the course of my career and have given over 25 lectures both locally and nationally.”
Brandon N_Crop

When asked, “What drew you to the PA profession?  Was there a defining motivation or life event that redirected you toward this path?” This was Brandon’s response.
“At fifteen years old, I was diagnosed with bi-phenotypic leukemia and underwent an experimental 4/6 expanded cord blood transplant. Once I recovered, I knew I wanted to give back and to be involved in medicine. The PA profession was particularly appealing because it allowed me to have an impact in BMT much faster than if I had pursued the MD route and it has allowed me more time with patients, which I truly value. I have dedicated my life to improving the care for pediatric bone marrow transplant and cellular therapeutic patients.”

“Surviving a bone marrow transplant has given me a unique insight into what my patients are experiencing which has proved invaluable in understanding and implementing patient-centered care.  My parents are of mixed racial background, which made it very difficult to find a suitable donor for my transplant. Consequently, from a young age I have been involved in efforts to improve access to care and have led efforts to help increase the donor pool for underserved communities. As a result of these efforts, I was elected co-chair the Consumer Advocacy Committee for the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR) consortium. This has allowed me to provide input into the national research agenda which has been extremely fulfilling. I am also  passionate about minimizing late effects post-transplant and this is where I have focused most of my research efforts. I am a member of Recovery and Survivorship Working Committee for the CIBMTR, which is an amazing group of individuals dedicated to making transplant and cellular therapy less toxic.

When asked, “What type of legacy do you hope to leave within the medical community?” Brandon states, “One of Hope and Excitement. The advances in Bone Marrow transplant over the last 25 years have been amazing. There is still much work to be done but I have no doubt that new discoveries in BMT and Cellular Therapeutics over the next 25 years will completely revolutionize how we practice medicine.”

Brandon reflects that, “Having cancer at such a young age imparted a sense of urgency to my life. I was the youngest APP to be promoted to Senior Instructor with Distinction in 2015. This year I had the good fortune of pulling off an academic hat trick.  I was awarded the Lifetime achievement award, from the American Society for Transplantation and Cellular Therapy, the Outstanding Service Adjunct Award from Children’s Hospital Colorado, and the first physician associate Senior Expert, in Clinical Practice Development. While I greatly appreciate these awards and the recognition that they have brought, I am most proud of my work with the CIBMTR to expand access to care for underserved populations and under resourced nations.  A parent should never have to bury a child from a curable disease. Finally, my cycling team wheels of justice has given me a second family and an amazing avenue to connect with my patients outside of work. As of this month we have now raised over $6 million dollars for the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s hospital.”

Brandon concludes by saying, “I think having cancer taught me how to have grit, which got my foot in the door, but it also taught me the value of teams. I am truly fortunate to have had great mentors and teammates without which none of my accomplishments or survival would have been possible.”


Global Health Track Student Shares her Experience in Tanzania

Charlotte Mitchell is a 3rd year student with CHA/PA in the Global Health Track, which allowed her to travel abroad for an international rotation in September 2022 to Tanzania.  Charlotte decided to go to Tanzania because she had an interest in Global Health and how PAs can work with supervising physicians internationally to provide superior care to patients. She also speaks KiSwahili, which allowed her to communicate with the patients and finally, she was very interested in how evidence-based medicine can be implemented in low resource environments. Charlotte Tanzania

Read below for Charlotte's recap of her time in Tanzania:
"The biggest challenges I faced during my time in Tanzania were related to the lack of medical resources in the community. During my time in Ifakara, I completed a Labor and Delivery (L & D) rotation. Lack of imaging and medical equipment, including those for fetal monitoring made it difficult to provide the same level of care that would be provided to laboring individuals in the U.S.  Some of the biggest rewards were working with the amazing Tanzanian providers and staff! It was inspiring to see how their clinical acumen and physical exam skills allowed them to provide the best care they could to their patients.  I think I will forever cherish my rotation in Tanzania in my career as a PA. One take away I think I will carry into my practice is being acutely aware of medical resources, and the importance of clinically correlating any testing or imaging I will order in my career.  Finally, I think for any students with an interest in L&D or in global health who would like to learn more about how medicine is practiced in low income countries, this is a great opportunity!"

CHA/PA Class of 2024 Student is Recipient of National Health Services Corp Scholarship

Class of 2024 student, Selena Ramirez Ahilon, was awarded the National Health Service Corps Scholarship. 


Selena Photo CHAPAspotlightThe National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program (NHSC SP) scholarship aims to expand access to health care for underserved and underrepresented communities by providing financial assistance to students committed to serving these communities. As a NHSC scholar, Selena will have the opportunity to work in one of the many Health Profession shortage areas, in particular being able to practice primary care, a field that she knew from the beginning of her healthcare journey that she wanted to be a part of.
Read more regarding Selena's experience as a CHA/PA student and her thoughts on the scholarship: 

"I am a very fortunate first-generation student aspiring to be a Physician Assistant (PA). I chose the PA profession because of the opportunity to be at the forefront of increasing access to health care for many patients. In addition, I really value the lateral mobility of the PA profession and the ability to explore a variety of different opportunities in the future. Finally, being a PA means the ability to be part of a life-long learning career, one dedicated to increasing and sharing healthcare knowledge in many communities."

"The scholarship has really motivated me to move forward with my plans to work in primary care without having to worry about the financial burdens of loans. I really value the impact that being a primary care provider signifies and this is something my scholarship highly values as well. I find it very impactful to be one of the first providers to introduce and welcome patients into healthcare and to be able to advocate for my patients along the way, as primary care is really centered on continuity of care."

"I just wanted to share that I feel very lucky to be a part of the CHA/PA program because of the great opportunities to work and learn from faculty that value primary care and practicing patient-centered care. I also appreciate our curriculum and the opportunity to learn alongside amazing and caring classmates. I look forward to being a part of a very rewarding and impactful profession as a future PA."


Preceptor Serving Around the WorldEd Medina

Earlier in his career as an RN, Ed Medina found himself alone with a patient (the on-call PA showered first before coming in.) The patient began decompensating, but quickly following ACLS protocols, Ed stabilized the patient back in a normal rhythm. Once the on-call PA arrived, he asked Ed, “What do you need me for? You fixed him.” That’s the moment when Ed considered becoming a PA himself.

Today, Ed is a PA working four days a week in a rural Colorado clinic as a Primary Care Provider, one day a week in a walk-in Family Practice Clinic, and precepting our CHA/PA students! Ed hails from a family of health professionals – his aunt was the first Nurse Practitioner in the country!

With his passion to work with underserved populations, Ed and his family served a mission in Cameroon, Africa from 2001-2004. Ed worked in a sixty-bed women’s ward and went to three different “out-station” clinics in rural areas once a month. On top of that, he oversaw the hospital’s HIV/AID program his last six months.

At first, the physicians in the Cameroon hospital didn’t know what to do with him – they had never worked with a PA before. Initially, Ed worked as an RN, but after explaining his training, he was put to work in the role of a regular physician. Clinical medicine in the Cameroon hospital was key, as there were few lab tests. Electricity was erratic for x-ray and ultrasounds.

Ed was to make another trip to serve at a hospital in Uganda in 2020 for a two-year commitment, however due to COVID, the trip has been postponed. On top of serving in Cameroon, Ed has worked short trips in Honduras, Belize, and Ecuador.

Having the ability to listen and support individuals with their concerns and witnessing positive health outcomes gives Ed joy and satisfaction in his career. He thrives working with varied patients and experiencing unknown challenges. As a preceptor, he loves when aspects of the field click in students’ minds - when they “get it.” Ed encourages future PAs to work with underserved populations, to keep positive, and to remember to laugh.



Debbie Aragon

CHA/PA Alumni Shares Value of her Pediatric Training

Debbie Aragon (CHA/PA Class of 1982), recently reached out to the program to share some relevant experiences. She recently attended a 90th birthday tribute to Dr. Bonnie Camp led by Dr. Steve Berman on Zoom. Dr. Bonnie Camp is described as a trailblazer for her leadership roles in Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Debbie was the only identified member of the CHA/PA community at the event and shared her appreciation on behalf of alumni who benefited greatly from Dr. Camp’s work.


In addition, Debbie also shared with us that she recently reconnected with her first patient as a CHA/PA student in 1979. Debbie followed the progress of the patient’s mother’s pregnancy, attended the delivery, and provided Well Child Care for the infant when he was born. This experience is one of many that CHA/PA alums share with regard to the extra pediatric learning experience the program has historically included in the curriculum. As one of the oldest programs in existence, CHA/PA alumni are no strangers to generational connections within our local community, and we always love to hear about these reunions!

Debbie’s passion for pediatrics and children has also led her to publish a book to assist children ages 2-12 in understanding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The book helps children work through the unfamiliar, unprecedented feelings and experiences they have likely been experiencing. If you are interested in receiving a copy for your practice or students, please contact us to connect you with Debbie.

CHA/PA Alumni & Precepting Powerhouse Elizabeth picture small

Elizabeth Gyorkos is a 1989 CHA/PA alumni and seasoned preceptor. She has worked primarily in pediatrics and over the last 27 years she has precepted approximately 100 CHA/PA students in the clinic. Undeniably a powerhouse of medical knowledge and experience for our students, she is an essential member of the CHA/PA family.
Elizabeth’s journey to medicine began humbly at the age of 12 when she started babysitting for 25 cents an hour. This, she explains, is where she fell in love with babies and caregiving for children. Coupled with an existing love for sciences, this matured into her active preparation to attend medical school. While volunteering at People’s Clinic in Boulder, Elizabeth met her first PA, Kathie Dolce (CHA/PA class of 1981). At the clinic, Elizabeth had the opportunity to shadow Physicians, Nurse Practitioners, and Kathie. So impressed with Kathie’s knowledge and ability to care for patients and educate families, Elizabeth made the decision to switch her aspirations from medical school to PA school.
Describing her 3 years at CHA/PA as “wonderful, exciting, challenging” and feeling like a “second family,” Elizabeth looks back fondly at all the experiences in school that led to lifelong friends who are still active parts of her life today. After attending CHA/PA, she began her career in general pediatrics for 1 year and then moved out of state to work on a pulmonary team with Cystic Fibrosis patients at Duke University. Working there for 3 years, she describes learning how important a multidisciplinary team is for good patient outcomes, but she also grew homesick for Colorado. Deciding to return to the state, she accepted a position at National Jewish Health in the Pediatric Asthma & Allergy Day Program where she has worked for over 27 years.
At the Asthma & Allergy Day program, Elizabeth works closely with providers specializing in behavioral health, rehab, nutrition, respiratory, pulmonary, allergy, immunology, GI, ENT and many other consultants. The most rewarding part of her job as a PA in this setting is realizing the difference she and her team make in the lives of their patients and their families. Thank you Elizabeth for all you do for your patients, their families, and as a preceptor for other CHA/PA students- in turn touching the lives of their future patients as well.

Changing Careers and the Push for PA LeadersTNeillsmall

Travis Neill, CHA/PA Class of 2009, didn’t always want to be a PA or to work in medicine at all. His first career was an 8 year path through the corporate finance world. Like others we’ve encountered through our program, Travis decided his life’s journey needed to take a compassionate turn in caring for others. While working in finance, Travis volunteered for the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) organization. The nationwide group with local chapters matches trained volunteers to child abuse and neglect cases with the purpose of advocating for and mentoring the involved children. This experience helping others drew Travis to the medical profession and led his decision to change careers. The choice to pursue his education specifically as a PA was made because of the wide range of opportunities it opened for him to be deeply involved in the care of others.

Most recently, Travis has been working in Geriatrics and as an Assistant Medical Director for a corporation that owns over 30 nursing homes. With a Physician Medical Director, he floats to around 12 different facilities helping with medical oversight which includes chart reviews, antibiotic stewardship efforts, psychiatric medication reviews, and quality assurance projects. He holds board positions on both the Colorado and American Medical Director Associations. This leadership position is very meaningful to Travis because (in the spirit of a true trailblazer) it took years of hard work and a few rejections to convince someone to give him the opportunity. As a PA, he frequently works to counter views that director positions are only suited for physicians.

Travis looks back fondly at his time in the CHA/PA program. Meeting his wife of 11 years when he started the program in 2006, they now have an 8 year old daughter together. Halfway through PA school, Travis also injured his back in a ski accident and gratefully recalls how his classmates went above and beyond to assist him when he needed surgery. Whether it was moving couches into the classroom so he could lie down for exams or bringing food to him as he recovered, the spirit of family in the program truly showed up for him.

Travis hopes his legacy in medicine as a PA is one that challenges the status quo for what “typical” PA roles look like. In the name of providing the best care for his patients, he is motivated to be a part of the solution to the challenges the medical community faces. In his words: “Now that I have been a physician assistant for 10 years, I can say unequivocally that my worst days as a PA are better than my best days working in finance.”

A Career Driven by Purpose

“You can’t change the whole world, but you can change the whole world for one person, and the next one and the next one.” Those IMG_1794are the words that have served to inspire the lifestyle and practice of CHA/PA Alum and Preceptor, Tracey Wall. The words were spoken to her by the Medical Director aboard a hospital ship off the coast of Africa through the Mercy Ships organization. After practicing in Family Medicine on dry land for 5 years, Tracey and her family made the decision to move aboard the ship together where they lived and worked for the next 4 ½ years. She describes the years she spent with colleagues on the ship as an amazing experience because they were able to help save the population who were dying from unmet surgical needs. Witnessing hope reinvigorate the hopeless highlighted the privilege she lived with and in turn led her to feel thanks for the opportunity to be a part of these patients’ lives.

After returning to the US, Tracey resumed her work in Family Medicine where she enjoyed her role but lacked the same sense of purpose she felt when working with Mercy Ships. Through speaking    with her supervising physician who was the only X-waivered provider in the entire region, she decided to get her certification as-well and work to treat those struggling with addiction. Training to work with patients holding this burden reignited the flame of deeper purpose Tracey had been seeking. For the next 3 years she balanced work at a Suboxone clinic in addition to patients at the Family Medicine clinic. Last fall, a clinic called Providence Recovery specializing in addiction opened in her community and she was approached with the opportunity to provide Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) to patients at this clinic. Tracey decided to accept the offer and she has been working solely in addiction medicine since December of 2019.

Citing her mother who was a nurse as probable inspiration, Tracey has always wanted to work in medicine. In college she initially pursued her education in Physical Therapy but soon changed her mind after a visit to Mali in West Africa. The severe medical shortages she witnessed on her visit inspired her to change paths and pursue a career as a PA instead. The CHA/PA program, the medical community at large, and the countless patients she has helped are undeniably so grateful that she did.

Lorrie Kehmeier: Longtime Preceptor, Alum & Provider

Lorrie Pic cropped

As the 4th PA in Northern Colorado and an early CHA/PA grad (1984), Lorrie Kehmeier is no stranger to breaking new ground in the PA world. A current preceptor to our students at the Youth Clinic in Ft. Collins, Lorrie is a long-standing pillar in our students’ clinical education and a much appreciated ally to our program.

Starting as a fresh grad in a world where most physicians had never even heard of a PA, Lorrie found herself fortunate to have made connections during her clinical time as a student. Thrilled to have found a job at a time when they were scarce in the new profession, Lorrie joined the Youth Clinic team in Ft. Collins after graduating and has continued to work there since. From her humble beginnings as a fresh PA working in Northern Colorado, she also proudly witnessed and contributed to the incredible growth of the Youth Clinic. Starting out as a practice with one office and 5 providers, the clinic has grown to include 4 offices, an urgent care, and 21 providers. Lorrie describes the expansion as a good problem but also a challenge.

Continuing to pay it forward as a preceptor, Lorrie does not cease to inspire curiosity and foster learning in our students every day. She reflects fondly on her own time as a CHA/PA student on rotation at University Hospital where she did “well baby” rounds and had to learn to read a mercury thermometer from a mom of 3. CHA/PA is fortunate to partner with Lorrie as an educator and clinician and looks forward to witnessing her developing legacy in pediatrics!

A Career in Advocacy

Ann Davis

Congratulations to Ann Davis, 1979 CHA/PA grad, on her retirement this year from her position as the AAPA (American Academy of Physician Assistants) Vice President of Constituent Organization Outreach and Advocacy. Preceding her 24 years at AAPA, Ann also worked as a pediatric PA in California & Arizona, and spent time as a CHA/PA Faculty member.

Ann’s roots in her medical career began in a small northern Colorado town called Sterling where she was a full-time student at the local community college. In Sterling she worked as a nurse’s aide on medical/surgical services, in a level one nursery, and in post-partum service. Ann realized at that time that she did not come from a family of physicians and found it challenging to wrap her head around the financial and academic burdens that came with medical school. Describing the PA profession as being invented exactly for her, Ann found a home in the CHA program which enabled her to pursue the career she desired in Pediatrics.

Like other early CHA grads, Ann is familiar with participating in many “firsts.” A couple examples are that she was the first PA in Flagstaff, Arizona and also the first woman to serve as President of the Arizona State Association of PAs. Ann hopes that the legacy she has left in her career prior to retirement had a positive impact on the state laws governing PA practice and consequently improving care for their patients.

Child Health Associate/Physician Assistant Program (CHA/PA)

CU Anschutz

Fitzsimons Building

13001 East 17th Place

Room E7019

Mail Stop F543

Aurora, CO 80045

(303) 724-7963

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