Research

A “Career-Changing” View from the Inside

By Donovan Lessard, MAAugust 8, 2018

The 2017-2018 AAPA-PAEA Research Fellows with PAEA and AAPA staff and Fellowship Advisory Council Members at the Keck Center, which houses the National Academy of Medicine.

A progress report on the inaugural AAPA-PAEA Research Fellowship

All too often, PAs feel as if they are on the outside looking in at other health professions’ access to and influence on policy and research. The AAPA-PAEA Research Fellowship is designed to flip this perspective, giving PA faculty researchers a view from the inside of some of the most prestigious national and international health professions research and policy institutions. Through this insider’s view, the Fellowship program hopes to offer PAs increased visibility in health education and workforce research, while building their individual skillsets and research agendas.

The inaugural cohort of AAPA-PAEA Research Fellows gathered for two in-person meetings earlier this year: one in Washington, DC, at PAEA’s offices for a week-long seminar in January and the other last week in Alexandria, Virginia, at the AAPA office. These meetings serve a variety of purposes, as:

  • A set of intensive networking opportunities with a wide array of health education and workforce research and policy leaders
  • Knowledge and skills-building sessions
  • In-person working sessions with established PA researchers and AAPA and PAEA research staff focused on each fellows’ research project

After the January meeting, one of the fellows commented, “I had significant learning in several areas: the relationship of health policy to research, connections with PA and workforce researchers leading to new research ideas, the possibility of submitting a presentation to the AAMC workforce research conference, and opportunities for collaboration across specialties, particularly with NACHC and Robert Graham.”

PAEA, AAPA, and NCCPA staff and chair of the Fellowship Advisory Committee, Rick Dehn, MPA, PA-C, with the 2017–2018 Research Fellows.

The inaugural cohort of fellows, Christy Hanson, MPAS, PA-C; Virginia Valentin, DrPH, PA-C; and Alicia Quella, PhD, PA-C, have moved into the analysis phase of their projects and will be presenting research-in-progress and preliminary findings at the 2018 PAEA Education Forum in Anaheim at a panel presentation that will also feature the next cohort of AAPA-PAEA research fellows. Learn more about their research projects here. As more cohorts participate throughout the years, PAEA plans to establish an ongoing alumni group of research fellows to help improve the fellowship moving forward and provide a potential source of mentorship and collaboration.

In advancing the goal of putting PA researchers at the national forefront of health education and workforce research, the fellows met with key research and policy staff at the National Association of Community Health Centers, the National Academy of Medicine, the Robert Graham Center, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the National Center for Health Statistics. Additionally, established PA researchers Bettie Coplan, MPAS, PA-C; Jim Cawley, MPH, PA-C; Tami Ritsema, MMS, MPH, PA-C; and Rick Dehn, MPA, PA-C, spent time with the fellows, explaining how they have carved out time for research as a PA educator, developed their own personal research agenda, and built collaborative relationships with researchers both within and outside of the PA profession.

The 2017–2018 AAPA-PAEA Research Fellows with Jennifer Tolbert, MPH, MSW, Director of State Health Reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation and Associate Director for the Program on Medicaid and the Uninsured.

An intentional theme throughout both weeks was the importance of not only crafting a personal research agenda, but also a leadership agenda. In line with the fellowship program goal of developing research leaders to represent, advance, and elevate PAs in health professions research, the seminar experiences were developed to expose the fellows to influential research leaders to enhance future networking and collaboration.

For instance, following the fellows’ visit to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), PAEA and AAPA were contacted by NAM requesting recommendations for PA researchers who could take the lead on a NAM-sponsored perspectives paper on PA well-being and burnout. This is the first time PAs have been asked to write a NAM perspectives paper, and it was a direct result of the in-person Fellowship meeting in January.

Also following the meeting at NAM, current fellow Virginia Valentin was invited to serve on a National Cancer Policy Forum for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine workshop planning committee to be held in February 2019. These are precisely the types of leadership outcomes this Fellowship seeks to continue producing.

The 2017–2018 AAPA-PAEA Research Fellows with Greg Margolis, Director of Health Policy Educational Programs and Fellowships at the National Academy of Medicine.

In addition to network building, the fellows also learned about datasets managed and/or used by the respective organizations, information on funding opportunities for health services and education research, resources to help with the technical aspects of methods and analysis, and advice on publishing and presenting. For the last one, a panel of editors-in-chief from JPAE, JAAPA, and Academic Medicine (special guest, David Sklar, MD) gave their insider expertise and advice to the fellows regarding how to successfully publish their research.

It is hoped that this experience will encourage PA researchers of the future to be bold in offering up their skills and expertise and confidently claiming space as leaders within the wider health professions education and workforce research worlds, as well as in their home academic institutions. Following the first week, one of the fellows commented that “this fellowship and the connections and opportunities that will follow will likely change our careers.”

Visit the AAPA-PAEA Fellowship web page to learn more about the program and how to apply. Any questions regarding the fellowship can be forwarded to research@PAEAonline.org.

Donovan Lessard
Donovan Lessard, MA

Donovan Lessard is PAEA's director of research programs and evaluation, overseeing the administration of national surveys for PA programs, students, and faculty, and the administration of research grants and research capacity building programs for PA faculty.