PAEA’s Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives: A Status Report

By Shani Fleming, MS, MPH, PA-CDecember 13, 2017

Left to right: DIMAC Chair Shani Fleming, PAEA Director of Diversity and Inclusion Kendall Mealy, and DIMAC Vice Chair Christina Robohm at the 2017 PAEA Education Forum in Denver. Credit: PAEA

PAEA’s new Strategic Plan clearly reiterates our commitment to diversity.

The plan includes only three main goals — and diversity is the first one. Strategic Goal 1 states: “Identity diversity is demonstrated throughout PA education.” Inclusion of this goal with deliberate objectives will ensure that the Association devotes significant resources to improving the diversity of PA education over the next three to five years, the intended life of the plan.

Increasing the diversity of PA education would allow us to do three important things.

  1. Exemplify educational excellence by enhancing the learning experience for all students.
  2. Achieving this goal would mean that we had successfully forged new educational pathways and career opportunities for students from groups that are historically underrepresented in medicine.
  3. Improve health outcomes for our patients. A wealth of research shows that patients respond better to providers who look like them and can relate to them culturally.

The evidence is clear that compliance, patient satisfaction, and health outcomes are all improved with a more diverse workforce. Minorities are underrepresented in PA programs and the PA profession and increasing their representation is necessary for the effectiveness of the US health care workforce.

We have a lot of work ahead of us if we are to bring about the promise of PAEA’s strategic plan, but much of this work is already well underway. I wanted to bring you up to date on some of our recent activities.

Off to a Good Start

We held a very successful first meeting of the Diversity and Inclusion Mission Advancement Commission (DIMAC) at the national office in Washington, DC, this fall. We discussed how PAEA can increase the quality of care by diversifying the profession through new outreach and partnership opportunities, increasing the visibility of the PA profession early in the pipeline, and by highlighting and celebrating programs that integrate diversity and inclusion in innovative or particularly effective ways.

We are working on a strategic action plan to build on our current resource library and to provide tools to help programs achieve excellence in inclusion and diversity.

At the 2017 PAEA Education Forum in Denver, DIMAC Co-Chair Christina Robohm and I were invited to a PAEA Board/Chair meeting to relay successful strategies used during the first in-person meeting of our new Mission Advancement Commissions (MACs) under the new volunteer structure. We appreciated the expertise and resources provided by our consultant and staff advisor Kendall Mealy and PAEA Vice President and Chief Learning Officer Sara Fletcher.

Minority Faculty Leadership Development

A key factor to increasing student demographic diversity is developing minority faculty leaders.  The Association supports a listserv that disseminates leadership resources and advocacy tools for diversity and inclusion. During the Forum, I facilitated the Minority Faculty Leadership Development Special Interest Group, which provided a safe space for minority faculty to network, provide mentorship, share experiences, and support one another. We have also been able to support two faculty every year to attend the AAMC Minority Faculty Leadership Development Seminar.

Setting Priorities

Earlier this year, we enlisted the assistance of Diversity Dimensions Consulting to help align the Board’s desire to increase identity diversity with a set of strategic priorities. Kimberly D’Abreu, founder and principal consultant at Diversity Dimensions Consulting, led the Board through a series of exercises and facilitated conversations designed to identify the most important work the Association can do to advance its mission-related diversity and inclusion activities and achieve its desired goals. All Board members agreed that increasing diversity and inclusion is important across the Association’s work and must be at the forefront of and integrated throughout all programs, resources, and services the Association provides.

Empower 2 Conference

This summer, PAEA funded me to attend the Empower 2 conference at Meharry Medical College in Nashville — a conference designed to prepare a competitive Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) applicant pool for health science careers and strengthen ties between HBCUs and health professions training programs. The conference drew well over 200 participants including deans, presidents, and other senior leadership from almost all of the nation’s 99 HBCUs, as well as interested health professions advisors and programs.

One of the main lessons I took away from this conference was that devoting strategic, intentional, and deliberate resources to recruiting minority students can deliver a big payoff for PA programs looking to enhance the diversity of their classes. It is a matter of prioritization and commitment. Many of our programs get so many applicants that we don’t really need to recruit any students. But if the priority is to create a diverse classroom — and minority students are not applying to our programs — we need to put funding and effort into recruiting them. There are a lot of institutions full of talented, bright, minority students, but are programs seeking them out? We have to be more proactive. Here are a few things you can do:

  1. Evaluate the admissions process. Are the admissions criteria and objectives tied to your mission? Do you have a diverse admissions committee? Does your admissions training include implicit bias? If not, it’s time to develop a more holistic admissions process. PA programs can’t focus solely on GPA and test scores; they should also take into account the applicant’s life circumstances and the noncognitive attributes that make for a good PA.
  2. Get the buy-in of institutional leaders. Expanding recruitment efforts is easier when it has funding and advocacy support from the institution.
  3. Bring in the best practices of programs who are successfully creating diverse classrooms. A good way to solicit this support is to offer specific suggestions for turning aspirations that may be in the institutional mission into a reality. Stay committed and diligent because change can be a slow process.
  4. Develop pipeline and mentorship programs. Many medical schools and other health professions schools have received considerable funding to develop pipeline programs and other resources for minority students, including websites and mentoring programs. For example:
  5. Put funding behind recruiting highly competitive applicants. Partnerships with strong STEM programs, such as UMBC PROMISE or Meyerhoff programs are crucial. Programs can also send representatives to recruit at the highly attended Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students or the Minority Access Annual Conference.

We will be sure to keep you informed as our strategic action plan takes shape, and we make progress toward the Association’s goal. Please feel free to contact us if you want to help or have ideas you’d like us to consider.

Shani Fleming, MS, MPH, PA-C

Shani is the chair of PAEA’s Diversity & Inclusion Mission Advancement Commission.