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Heather Heggem has been known to remind students that the physician assistant program at Rocky Mountain College is a little like trying to drink from a fire hose. 

One student begged to differ, saying it’s more like trying to drink from a fire hose that’s spewing scalding hot water.

“It’s a lot of medicine in a short amount of time,” Heggem said. “You’re studying all the time. It’s so much material, and all of it matters. ”

Heggem majored in biology and environmental science at Rocky before she was accepted to the 26-month Master’s Physician Assistance Studies Program. After graduation, she practiced as a physician assistant for about six years, working in cardiology at St. Vincent Healthcare. In 2013, she succeeded Bob Wilmouth as director of the Masters Physician Assistant Studies Program.

“Growing up in Winifred, I knew about the need for rural health care, and I always wanted to go to the program at Rocky,” said Heggem, who also played basketball for the Bears for four years.

Last year, more than 900 students from across the nation applied for 36 slots at Rocky, the only PA program in the state.

During an extensive interview process, administrators look beyond students who are academically gifted.

“We don’t just look for a great student. We look for that great physician’s assistant,” she said.

Heggem is proud of the essential role that Rocky graduates play in providing health care in areas that have been traditionally underserved. Fifty-eight percent of the program’s graduates practice within the region, she said.

“I feel like my colleagues really care about the students, she said. “The professors really care and they want to see the students become successful. The students know they are loved and that we will take care of them if they ever run into problems.”

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your job? Teaching future health care providers is a tremendous responsibility. Guaranteeing that our graduates are excellent diagnosticians, competent, and practice evidence-based medicine, but most importantly that our students are compassionate, kind, providers who will make a difference in the lives of their patients. Ensuring that our graduates are professional, lifelong learners who will never go home early.

What’s the best business advice you have received? Being present, reflective, and an active listener.

Who gave you that advice? Many great leaders that I have enormous respect for model these behaviors.

Here’s what I’d like to do to improve my community: Kindness to people who need it the most…taking care of our homeless population.

Outside of work, my biggest passion is: My children.

Which living person do you most admire? My parents…they instilled a strong work ethic, emphasized community, showed me the importance of kindness, were always honest with me, and modeled unconditional love which I am fortunate to share with my children.

Aside from profit and loss, how do you measure success in your job? The patient care stories that I hear from my past students that are practicing PAs. When a student really touches someone’s life and they call and tell me about it.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? My kids…they are kind, caring, and good citizens.

I’m happiest when I’m…traveling to a new place with my family.

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