Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The PAEA Future Educator Fellowship

The Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) inaugurated its first class of PA students to the PAEA Education Forum in Washington, D.C. in November of this year (2015). This session included, for the first time ever, a group of PA students enrolled (didactic or clinical) in a PAEA member program to apply for the Future Educator Fellowship. Application requirements included a short personal statement, a program director certification form, CV/resume, and answers to 2 questions regarding interest in PA education. The main points of contact for this fellowship were Danielle DiSilvestro (Director of Application & Student Services, PAEA guru), Sheryl Vermont (Director), and Renee Despot (Coordinator).

The Student Advisory Task Force (SATF) developed the Future Educator Fellowship and included many notable contributors, including:
  • Richard Bottner, MHS, PA-C, a recent graduate of the Quinnipiac University PA program.
  • Emily Fenton, MPAS, PA-C, a recent graduate of the University of Iowa PA program.
  • Stephanie Neary, MPA, MMS, PA-C, a recent graduate of Midwestern University-Glendale PA program.
  • Cody Sasek, MPAS, PA-C, currently a faculty member with the University of Nebraska PA program, and serving as the PAEA Graduate Liaison to the Student Academy of AAPA.
  • Jenny Kluznik, MPH, PA-C, currently faculty at Augsburg College PA program, the PAEA Board Director at-Large and the SATF chair.
  • Carl Garrubba, MPA, PA-C, currently the Program Director at Chatham University PA Program and the PAEA board liaison to the SATF.
  • Danielle Di Silvestro, Director of Applicant and Student Services at PAEA and staff advisor to the SATF.

But it was the PAEA that created the task force. The PAEA started this idea with a vision for increased student involvement. Actually, the PAEA BOD (board of directors) created the SIWG (Student Initiative Work Group, 2012-2013) first and was originally designed to identify ways to increase student involvement in education. The SIWG recognized that PAEA lacked a student-led group that many other health professions education organizations have and proposed the formation of the SATF to broaden the student voice within PAEA and foster student interest in PA education and leadership. A survey was created, distributed, and statistically evaluated by the SATF, which was used to evaluate students’ level of knowledge and interest in PA education, and was a large part of the BOD approving further proposals and efforts.

The SATF also participated in selecting the next SMAL (Student Member at Large), held at the time by Jenny Kluznic. This student member sits on the PAEA Board of Directors and has a wide range of responsibilities, including sitting on the SATF.

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It helps to know how the PAEA is structured (see above). The PAEA is completely made up of volunteers. There is a top-down infrastructure, with the leadership appointed to the BOD or board of directors. The BOD governs the activity of 5 divisions (in brown) including all of those you see above. These divisions in turn are split into subgroups called councils and more specialized committees, subcommittees, and workgroups who manage specific projects. The BOD, divisions, and councils are a permanent part of the infrastructure of PAEA. Task forces are groups created for certain time-limited projects. The Student Advisory Task Force currently falls under this category and was given 2 years to complete specific tasks handed down by the board of directors.

The SATF team created and presented 2 SPARK sessions that introduced the educator concept at the AAPA 2015 conference, which were very well attended and received very good feedback. One, called Maximizing the Patient Encounter: Strategies to Provide Excellent Patient Education; the other; Beyond the Clinic: An Exploration into PA Education.

Finally, the SATF felt it was important for PA students to gain insight into the workings of their own education as well as to foster student interest in becoming educators. The SATF submitted their proposal to the BOD, and once approved, put together and promoted the application, reviewed applications, and selected 25 Fellows to attend the Forum for the very first time.

Fellows were given a travel stipend of up to $1,000 covering travel costs, lodging, and food expenses and were able to participate in designated Education Forum sessions and specifically designed sessions and activities for PA students (see below). I was fortunate enough to be selected as an inaugural recipient of this Fellowship and learned a lot while in D.C. and feel more confident in tackling my future in PA education.

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The objective of this Fellowship was to enhance PA students’ understanding of medical education and academic careers in PA education. It aimed to foster professional development and leadership in future educators. Essentially, this forum was designed for PA students to discover academic opportunities in PA education, network with faculty, preceptors, and directors of PA programs, and explore research opportunities related to PA education. While at the conference, I was also able to explore opportunities in advocacy, as I participated in Hill Day and Project Access, which I will briefly talk about in another blog post about the PAEA Education Forum. We attended a poster session (page 55) with the most up-to-date research in PA education, including tons of information about end of rotation exams. The best part of this poster session was the breadth of research occurring all over the U.S. and discovering strategies for collaboration through a network of PA educators.

A tentative list of events was provided for us:
  • Thursday, November 12: Potential visit to Capitol Hill in the afternoon to meet with legislators and advocate for the PA profession. Alternately, visit PAEA headquarters. [This was called Hill Day, which I participated in and will discuss on another blog post about the educational forum.]
  • Friday, November 13: Breakfast and welcome remarks, poster presentations, education sessions, PAEA Board of Directors meet and greet, PAEA awards luncheon, and student fellow session.
  • Saturday, November 14: Fellow breakfast, plenary session (milestones), CASPA/PAEA/NCCPA/AAPA Annual Report presentation, advocacy in PA education, lunch, Pathways to Education (roundtable discussion on pursuing various careers in PA education), debrief session, PAEA business meeting, and closing reception.

The following video was provided as an introduction into the mission of PAEA and the other “Big Four” organizations surrounding PA education.

Welcome to PA Education from PAEA on Vimeo.

One of the first few education-specific presentations was titled “Transitioning from Clinician to Academia: The First Three Years” given by Sarah Bolander, MMs, PA-C from Midwestern University PA Program in Glendale, AZ. The purpose of this lecture was to understand the challenges and improve the transition into academia. This presentation provided a new faculty on-boarding timeline that provided a guide to ensure comprehensive orientation to new faculty, including PA students who were unfamiliar and not oriented to PA education completely. One of the attendees even took the initiative to develop a LinkedIn group for new faculty called “New Physician Assistant Educators”, which is a resource I would have never known about unless I had attended. Below is a brief overview of the topics covered in this lecture and the outcomes learned from each. I hope this blog post gives you a stronger understanding of the Future Educator Fellowship mission and hope that it continues to foster a desire to pursue PA education.

Test Question and Syllabus Writing
Based on observation and feedback, faculty discussing this topic stressed the need for mentorship.  The majority of new faculty experienced the “learn as you go” approach and would have appreciated guidance and training within the program.  PANDO workshops helped with some of these faculty members to bridge the gap in training and mentorship.

Support from PA program/Mentoring
Faculty described varying amounts of support from their PA program and only a few have instituted formal mentorship programs. This group separated the discussion based on what was available in their institutions and what advice they would give.  The need for mentorship was definitely an overall theme for all of the groups.

Rank & Tenure
Ability to apply for rank and tenure varied amongst institutions.  Some programs did not find the need for tenure or indicated that they intentionally choose not to be on a tenure track.  Need for scholarship also varied amongst the faculty.  The topic was definitely unique to each intuition and the general understanding of the process was not always clear.

Lecture Prep
Mentorship was also a hot topic in these groups.  Variability in how to develop and the amount of help available for this process.  Groups divided the topics based on developing skills and provided some thoughts for guidance and support.

Scholarly Activity
Expectations for scholarly activity varied based on the institution.  Overall experience level amongst new faculty was minimal and few attendees provided means of guidance and support.

Following are comments on what new faculty found as the most challenging during the transition for clinician to academia.  These comments speak to the difficulty in making this transition.
  • Lack of mentors, especially new programs
  • In clinical work, leave work at work; academia less stressful but bring work home
  • In clinical work no meetings; academia lots of meetings & have to make decisions with committees
  • Learning curve going from clinical to education, not knowing the answers for students
  • Learning rules of education and formal teaching: systems of presenting, teaching, testing knowledge
  • Teaching for your students and not for the way you learn best
  • Politics of education
  • Students think they have 24-hr access to the educators
  • Steep learning curve
  • Deciding between academia and clinician
  • Would be helpful to have info available for new to academia who have new clue what it involves
  • Research
  • Work-load being short staffed
  • Constructing lecture
  • Lack of faculty development
  • Educational jargon
  • Advising
  • Dealing with students: different learning styles and interactive styles/emotions
  • Lifestyle difference: when to shut down/turn off at the end of the day
  • To do list never ends
  • Learning to prioritize
  • Understanding student dynamics
  • Finding the boundary b/w generations of students
  • Understanding administration
Other Comments:
  • Better to recruit faculty than to post a job
  • Discussed how to approach faculty members who had bad student evals – put plan in writing

Student Tips:
We had the unique opportunity to have students weigh in on these topics and they took the time to also provide some tips from their perspective.
  • More explanation of the different roles and hats faculty wear and how they navigate those responsibilities
  • Students want to know their opinions are valued and voices are heard.  Should there be more transparency of academia with students to resolve misconceptions?
  • Faculty need to be receptive to student constructive criticism and be willing to try new things if needed to improve the student experience.
  • Faculty should show a genuine concern and investment in your students.
  • When faculty make a mistake, own it, otherwise students can become frustrated
  • Approachability and support: I want to feel comfortable asking questions during lecture because you respond in a constructive way. Being able to come to your office to ask advice about many topics: classwork, extra-curricular involvement, career choices and development, your path in the profession, study skill, etc.

PAEA SATF, especially Jenny Kluznik, MPH, PA-C


  1. I had a great time at PAEA as a Future Educator Fellow. Meet some great people and had some good conversations. I hope they continue and grow the fellow program for current and future PA students interested in academia. Great write up Paul :)


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