As we say goodbye to 2020, we extend a huge thank you to Howard Straker, EdD, MPH, PA-C, for leading the Association during an especially challenging year. At the same time, we welcome Michel Statler, MLA, PA-C, as PAEA’s new president. Currently an associate professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Michel brings a wealth of experience to her new role. Not only has she been on the Board of Directors for the past five years, but she was also a PAEA staff member, serving as senior director of academic affairs from 2010–2013.
We asked Michel about her thoughts on leadership and plans for the year ahead.
Has running for president of PAEA been a long-held desire or was it something that you decided to do more recently?
I’ve been thinking about running for president since I entered into my second term as director at large. One of my goals for serving on the Board was to be able to make a difference, and while I have been able to contribute in a variety of ways, running for president felt like an important next step. I am humbled by the opportunity to serve our members over the upcoming year, and it has been extremely gratifying to have received great support from my colleagues at PAEA as well as the UT Southwestern PA program.
In thinking about the upcoming year, what aspects of your new role are you most excited about?
I am looking forward to working with our new CEO, Board, and Senior Leadership Team on the updates to the strategic plan to help set the priorities for the upcoming year. I am also excited to see what advocacy efforts on the Hill will look like with the new administration and what this could mean for PA education and the PA profession in general.
2020 was a particularly challenging year for everyone. What do you think educators and the PA profession in general have learned from the past year?
The pandemic has forced us to take a hard look at how we have structured our programs and reimagine how PA education could look. As educators, we’ve needed to rethink how we conduct interviews, teach classes, host White Coat and commencement ceremonies, and provide mentorship for our students. PA faculty have been nimble and innovative in their approach to adapting to the tremendous volume of change and along the way have discovered new teaching and assessment methodologies that will be integrated into their programs even when we are able to return to campus. The changes necessitated in response to the pandemic have opened the door for further innovation and will perhaps serve as the impetus for a reimagined clinical curriculum.
What have you learned from observing previous PAEA presidents that will help you in your new role?
While each president has their own unique leadership style, one common denominator is that previous presidents have been acutely mindful that they represent our members and the Association, which has translated into advocacy on behalf of our programs. Past presidents have modeled the importance of asking the right questions, being inclusive, and seeking out the perspectives of others to make informed decisions. The other lesson learned is the value of connectedness — something that has been challenged over the past year but serves as the reason to be intentional about re-establishing our bonds over the upcoming year.
What do you see as the most promising opportunity for PAEA over the next year or two?
One of our most promising opportunities will be advancing our initiatives regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion. During the Town Hall sessions about racial injustice hosted by Immediate Past President Howard Straker last summer, our faculty and students gave us a call to action as they shared their own experiences with systemic racism. Our membership spoke clearly during the Town Hall at the Education Forum about the need to move forward with our initiatives for diversity and inclusion. PAEA’s new Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer Monica Miles, PhD, who starts her position on January 19, will help take this work to a new level.
What do you predict will be the biggest challenge that the Association will face in the near future?
One of the biggest challenges for the new year will be recovering from the surge capacity under which programs have been operating since mid-March. The expectations for PA faculty over this past year have been enormous as faculty have needed to reinvent the curriculum for both the didactic and clinical phases of the program. Teaching online has allowed us to keep moving forward, but as educators, we miss seeing our students and watching the lightbulb moments in the classroom, as well as enjoying the personal connections with our colleagues and staff. Working from home has become living at work in many respects. The long-term impact of stretching our bandwidth is not known: could this impact faculty turnover, or the desire to serve on committees or pursue scholarship? With the availability of COVID vaccines comes the promise that we will be able to put the pandemic in the rearview mirror. I suspect, however, that the recovery for programs and their faculty will take longer.
What have you found to be the most unexpected part of being a leader?
Being a leader often involves more listening and more learning than expected, which then creates more opportunities to build connections and work collaboratively to create resources to support our programs, faculty, and students. Being a leader has less to do with being the “sage on the stage” and more to do with seeking to understand and asking for help. That said, one of the most gratifying parts of being a leader is providing support and encouraging others to allow them to realize their potential. And nothing beats seeing former students become educators!
Is there something that most people don’t know about you but would be surprised to learn?
I’ve inherited a passion for cooking from both grandmothers whose love language was cooking for family and friends. I’ve started working on an Army brats cookbook with a compilation of recipes that I have accumulated over the years. Each chapter will begin with a letter to my father who was a career Army officer. “Dear Dad, today you graduated from college and were commissioned as a second lieutenant, and I became an Army brat.” It goes without saying that recipes will be gladly accepted but they need to be the ones that are tattered and worn with a couple of splatters on the page (translation = tried and true).
Do you have a favorite quote or book that helps guide or inspire you?
One of my new favorites is this quote from Maya Angelo, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” Ignorance represents a lack of knowledge, and sometimes we are ignorant because we don’t know or don’t see. The long-standing issues associated with racial injustice became very real over this past summer in a way that I hadn’t appreciated before; I suppose that reflects my white privilege. Hearing first-hand from our students of color about the challenges they are experiencing during PA school demands that when we know better, we must do better.
What advice would you give to those who are considering volunteer leadership but aren’t sure they are ready to make the move?
Jump right into the deep end of the pool (water wings optional) and apply for committees and work groups. Getting involved with leadership opportunities opens the door to building relationships with colleagues from other programs, which in turn creates opportunities for collaboration on presentations, posters, and other scholarship.