Clinical Training

Get to Know Your Clinical Education Neighbors

By Laura Gerstner, MHA, MSHS, PA-CMay 3, 2016

man peering over fence

A North Carolina clinical coordinator suggests 5 steps to help turn competitors into collaborators.

PAEA’s Committee on Clinical Education recently published an issue brief titled “The Three ‘C’s of Clinical Education: Courtesy, Communication, and Collaboration.” The key message in this issue brief is that faculty should have “open and regular” communication with programs in shared geographic regions.

Six years ago, as a new clinical coordinator for a brand new PA program, the thought never crossed my mind that I could or should reach out to the clinical coordinators at neighboring PA programs in North Carolina — after all, they were my “competition” for clinical sites!

I am proud to say that now, only a few years later, I have an excellent working relationship with the other clinical educators in my state. Given the issue brief’s challenge to programs to assess their own level of communication and collaboration with other PA programs, I feel compelled to share how this began in North Carolina and the steps that clinical educators can use to collaborate with their neighboring programs.

Step 1: Learn who your clinical education neighbors are. Begin by exploring the PAEA program directory to determine which PA programs are in your region/state. Visit the faculty section of each program’s website to gain more information about the clinical educator so that you will at least be able to recognize each name or face. But don’t stop here, otherwise, it will leave you only knowing of a colleague rather than knowing the individual and understanding their clinical curriculum.

Step 2: Introduce yourself to your clinical education neighbors. If you happen to bump into your clinical education neighbors at the PAEA Education Forum, introduce yourself and exchange your contact information. If you are not able to attend the Forum or do not have an opportunity to see your clinical education neighbors, take the initiative and send an email to each one individually or as a group, introducing yourself and your desire to collaborate and open the lines of communication.

At the Forum in 2012, I met several clinical educators from North Carolina during the Clinical Educators’ Retreat. We agreed that further discussion in a more formalized fashion would be an important step in getting and staying connected, as well as possibly collaborating.

Step 3: Plan a formal meeting. Reach out to all directors of clinical education and/or clinical coordinators to see if they would be interested in having a face-to-face meeting. This could be held at your program, at a restaurant, or at a conference center. Breaking bread together may help break the ice.

In January of 2013, April Stouder, director of clinical education at the Duke University PA program, emailed all of the clinical educators in North Carolina to gauge their interest. The response was overwhelmingly positive and a date was set for February 2013 at the North Carolina Academy of Physician Assistants conference center in Durham. A call for agenda items went out ahead of the meeting, and from these suggestions, we developed a variety of topics for discussion.

Step 4: Share information about each program and determine how the programs can work better together. Potential agenda topic ideas include:

  • Contact information to create a state (or regional) clinical educator directory/listserv
  • The structure of each individual program’s clinical year
  • Existing visiting student policies, where applicable
  • Common challenges in clinical education in your state
  • Ideas for future collaboration

This meeting was crucial in beginning to form lasting relationships between the North Carolina clinical educators.

Step 5: Continue the communication, both formally and informally. Since many PA educators attend the Education Forum each fall, this may be a perfect time to plan an informal gathering of your state/regional group. A more formal meeting can then be held each spring to welcome new clinical educators to your group and to discuss other important topics, including accreditation standards, category I CME for preceptors and other preceptor incentives, PAEA End of RotationTM exams, and shared clinical sites.

Our group decided to informally get together during the Forum each fall and then formally meet each spring in North Carolina, with programs volunteering to host and coordinate the meetings on a rotating basis. We created an email listserv for communication and shared a master clinical education faculty contact list, which is updated as new clinical educators join programs.

From the start, we anticipated numerous benefits to our collaboration — the sharing of resources (e.g., policies, procedures, forms), gaining information about each others’ programs, and relationship building with colleagues in similar faculty roles. As our rapport with one another has continued to grow, we have discovered unanticipated benefits of our collaboration. These include assisting with “pinch” student placement needs, sharing information on shared sites with common challenges, informal mentoring of new clinical educators by more experienced faculty, serving as a sounding board for new ideas, and several Education Forum presentations.

It is my hope that clinical educators at PA programs in other states/regions can use these outlined steps and follow the example of clinical educators in North Carolina. Our model has evolved some over time, and we expect similar efforts in other states/regions will have their own unique qualities and structure.

I encourage you to take the first step in reaching out to clinical educators in your region and start the conversation.

Acknowledgement to Nicholas Hudak, MPA, MSEd, PA-C, and April Stouder, MHS, PA-C, both from the Duke University PA program, for contributing to the content of this article.

Laura Gerstner, MHA, MSHS, PA-C
Laura Gerstner, MHA, MSHS, PA-C

Laura is the director of clinical education for the Campbell University PA program and a member of the PAEA Committee on Clinical Education.