Attendees at this year’s Education Forum in Minneapolis heard a clear message — we must challenge ourselves to raise our standards and reach higher. That sounds like a tall order, but when presented as it was by the thought-provoking speakers at the Forum, it came across as more inspiring than intimidating.
In her State of the Association address, “How High Can We Set the Bar?” PAEA CEO Timi Agar Barwick, MPM, spoke about how PAEA’s ability to collect data from both PACKRAT and End of Rotation Exams allows us to set national benchmarks and provide every PA program in America with the tools they need to monitor and understand their own performance so they can improve themselves.
“We have more than 200 independent PA programs across the country, each with their own way of doing things,” she told the audience of PA educators. “As part of our national leadership role, PAEA needs to provide some level of consistency across all of those programs, to set some national benchmarks for quality, efficiency, and excellence.”
She emphasized that this call for excellence and consistency extends to all areas of PA education — including clinical sites. She said she regularly hears that the students being trained on rotations aren’t consistent in their level of medical knowledge, and the graduates they’re hiring aren’t consistent in their mastery of clinical skills.
“If we want more clinical sites and more jobs for graduates — and we hear that from our members all the time — we need to listen to employers,” said Barwick. “Given the changes in health care, we can’t afford for our bar to be too low — or even to stay positioned where it is currently.”
Communication, Communication, Communication
In her Friday morning address, “Advancing Our Health System to Meet the Needs of the Future,” invited speaker Janis Orlowski, MD, echoed the same concern. “As educators we should be leading the pack in quality,” said the chief medical officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges. “What is it about the climate that we continue to fail to hit the mark when it comes to quality? When you add a student to the clinical environment, quality measures should go up.”
She called for transparency in quality and performance, saying that we need a candid assessment of our strengths and weaknesses, and also stressed the necessity of working together.
“The most important change in leadership is collaboration,” said Orlowski, stressing the crucial need for programs to work with their communities and for interprofessional outreach. “It’s communication, communication, communication.”
“In the next 10 years, 95,000 more MDs, PAs, and NPs will be needed to address our aging population. Everyone will need to be experienced in team-based care and practicing at the top of our competency.“
Develop New Habits
During her speech at the Awards Lunch, PAEA President Jennifer Snyder, PhD, PA-C, posed the question: Who do we want our students to become? — piggybacking on the question asked of 61 thought leaders at PAEA’s Stakeholder Summit last spring: How can we graduate practice-ready PAs?
One of the key findings of the summit was that employers want PA graduates to bring better clinical reasoning skills to their jobs,” said Snyder. “Employers are concerned that many PA graduates don’t have the sophistication to understand and apply clinical studies and implement quality improvement.”
She explained that while our students have spent their whole lives mastering the traditional approach to learning, we can’t keep teaching the same way and expect a different result. “If we want to educate a new kind of student, we need to adopt innovations that break the old habits and build new ones.”
Emphasizing that “we are what we do repeatedly,” she went on to explain that “when we keep doing something new, we become someone different.”
Snyder said that we need to start at the end and work backwards — identifying the characteristics that we want our students to have, finding the habits we want them to build, and adopting the innovations that help us build those kinds of habits.