DMS Bridge Alumni Profiles

Read our alumni profiles to get a glimpse into the lives of our alumni and how the Butler DMS Bridge program is shaping future PA leaders.

“I don’t see a single downside.” DMS Bridge Alumnus consulting a patient

That’s how Zachary Simons, DMS, PA-C, views Butler’s Doctor of Medical Science (DMS) Bridge program, through which he earned his doctorate in August 2022.

The Bridge program’s accelerated timeline appealed to Simons. Open only to recent PA graduates, the program applies their already-completed clinical hours to their doctoral requirements.

“It takes two years off earning a DMS degree. That’s a lot of time saved,” said Simons.

Becoming a certified PA, awaiting your credentials, and securing your first job can take months—time best spent improving your skills. Butler DMS Bridge students use this time to gain research and leadership skills, becoming more attractive to employers.

As someone who came late to the PA profession, Simons wanted to save all the time he could.

Wanting the light bulb moments

Simons was ready to become an analytical chemist in 2015. Unable to find the right position, he took a job as a dermatology office medical assistant despite having “no interest in medicine. None,” he said.

Nevertheless, he became immersed in supporting four PAs and a doctor and came to understand the significant role a PA plays in patient care. He’d held the job for two years when an overheard conversation crystallized a desire to become one.

“A PA was going back and forth with a patient, having a lot of trouble figuring out what was wrong. Then, with the answer to one specific question, a light bulb went off in her head. She suddenly knew what was wrong from something she’d read in a research study. I wanted to be able to do that,” Simons said.

He became a certified PA in 2021 but felt he didn’t know how to effectively explore research data. So, he sought out a doctoral program and chose Butler.

“When a PA has tried x-y-z with a patient and gets stuck, we don’t have the intrinsic medical-school knowledge a physician does. We must assess risks/benefits without having been taught how to identify sound vs. skewed research,” Simons said. “In the DMS program, we get a fuller understanding of properly interpreting statistical data.”

Saving money while learning

Another appeal of Butler’s DMS Bridge was how soon after PA school he could start.

“Once you leave school, you’re juggling life, paying off loans, you’re off the school pace. DMS Bridge sets you up for your future while you’re still focused on being a student,” Simons said. “It’s just another seven months of classes, and you have a complete educational experience.”

The fully online DMS Bridge program also relieves students of substantial costs.

“As I said, I don’t see a single downside. If you’re anticipating getting a doctorate education and you’re still in PA school, plan on enrolling in the DMS Bridge program. The experience is something I’ll never forget,” Simons said.

Today, Simons works at Schweiger Dermatology Group and is a postdoctoral researcher with DMS Bridge Program Director Cody Sasek on a project directly affecting PA education, a field Simons may enter someday.

“We are examining certain personal attributes of PA program directors to understand the deciding factors around attrition,” Simons said. “As the number of PA programs grow, stability in good leadership is key to ensuring that the PA profession is successful in years to come.”

Choosing to become a PA in the military means more stress and responsibility, said Dr. Aubrey Brown, 1st Lt. in the U.S. Air Force and a PA-C. Immediately studying to become a Doctor of Medical Science (DMS) added even more—but as someone who takes the branch’s “Faster and Smarter” objective to heart, Brown found the structure of Butler University’s DMS Bridge program irresistible.

The two-semester accelerated program is fully online. By applying a recently graduated PA’s clinical hours, the program can be finished in less time and at a lower cost than waiting until later in a PA’s career.

As soon as she learned about it, the newly minted PA (and woman who had never intended to go to college at all) signed up.

Out of planes and into PA school

Brown had grown up with a lofty career goal.

“I wanted to jump out of airplanes and save people,” she said. “As soon as I turned 17, I asked my mom if I could join the Air Force.”

Brown enlisted right after high school graduation. Six years later, “I realized enlisted life is great but didn’t fulfill my passion. I’d become a medic and did get to save people but there was no jumping out of planes,” she said.

Brown was with a Special Forces unit when she discovered the Interservice Physician Assistant Program (IPAP), an accelerated path toward a Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) degree.

“I didn’t even know what a PA was, just that they knew more than I did,” Brown laughed. “Someone let me shadow them, and right away I thought, ‘This is definitely for me.’”

She went “crazy” (her word) to quickly finish the prerequisites, graduating in 35 months and moving to Andrews Air Force Base in October 2022 to await her PA credentials.

Brown admitted she soon “got bored” waiting. Then, “One of my PA friends said he was getting his doctorate. I didn’t even know a PA doctorate existed. That’s when I found Butler.”

Getting smarter faster

The timing and accelerated nature of Butler’s DMS Bridge program appealed to Brown.

“It was fast, I was still in the school mindset, and it was so cost competitive. So, I did it,” she said.

Brown developed a network of PA contacts she’d never had before and believes she’s a better researcher and critical thinker because of the DMS Bridge program.

“You’re able to look at things from a different standpoint, further away than you could before. I can develop research problems like nobody’s business now,” she said. “It certainly has helped me in my practice.”

Now Dr. Brown, she’ll also become Capt. Brown in October 2023, happier for having earned her doctorate through Butler.

“The military doesn’t have as many PA specialties as civilians do, only about five. One of those is education, so you can go back to where you learned all this and teach. That’s definitely an option for the future now,” she said. “And if I ever decide not to be in the military anymore, I have even more options.

“Butler’s DMS Bridge is one of those rare things, literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I would challenge anyone to find a better one.”

DeLaney Hartman

PA school focuses clinically—how do we treat patients and how do we get them better? The Butler DMS Bridge program allowed us to look forward to the effects of research and leadership on healthcare—how PAs can be involved in research to improve quality of care and how PAs can form teams in healthcare to impact patient outcomes for the better.