After 30 years of precepting students and serving on the faculty of the University of Utah PA Program, Dave Keahey, MSPH, PA-C, has joined the PAEA staff in Washington, DC, as chief advocacy and research officer. He recently finished up a year-long stint as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellow in the nation’s capital — and apparently found the surroundings to his liking.
With his extensive practice, faculty, and leadership background, including serving as chair of the Government Relations and External Affairs Council (GREAC), he’s the perfect fit for his new role at PAEA.
Let’s learn more about him…
1. What is the main reason why you decided to apply for the position of chief advocacy and research officer?
During my career, I have grown to appreciate the key role that PAEA plays in the growth, development, and advancement of the profession. As the Utah Association’s legislative chair for a decade, I developed respect and appreciation for the support national PA organizations provide.
Over the past 10 years, PAEA volunteer experiences allowed me to observe the effectiveness of the organization on multiple levels; work with bright, dedicated staff; and partner with other volunteers who share its vision. I believe that I have a sense of the organization and its aims, and they are congruent with my own. Finally, the catalyst was my transformational 15-month experience as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellow in Washington, DC.
2. You have held several leadership roles within the PA education community. How did you first get involved in leadership with PAEA?
Beginning in the 1980s, I worked on a dedicated team to gain passage of Utah’s first PA practice act and, through 2012, led several successful efforts to improve and expand PA scope of practice and the education environment. The Utah Physician Assistant Program was the epicenter for these efforts.
In the early 2000s, my colleague Constance Goldgar, MS, PA-C, and I attended STFM conferences as eager acolytes of the nascent EBM movement. STFM encouraged its members to practice using EBM and incorporate its principles into medical student and resident education. We aimed to do the same for PA education. This led to me being named a STFM liaison and the publication of a white paper outlining our organizations’ shared interests and need for a close interprofessional working relationship. After this success, I guess you could say that I was “hooked” and actively sought out other opportunities to volunteer with PAEA.
3. What is your vision for the Advocacy and/or Research departments at PAEA?
To support advocacy, we need to be effective in research. To support research, we need to be effective in advocacy. When PAEA advocates meet with Congress, federal agencies, and private organizations, we need to be armed with methodologically sound peer-reviewed studies that characterize the experience and outcomes of PA education, workforce, and practice. Our fellow advocates have data that support their “asks” and we need to present our data.
In 2016, Christine Everett, PhD, MPH, PA-C, achieved a remarkable milestone as the first PA faculty member to receive a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant. It is my hope that Dr. Everett will inspire and be followed at NIH by other PA researchers.
I would like to see the PAEA research department, with leadership and focus from the Research Council, support established and new PA faculty researchers to a greater degree than we already do. The advocacy department and GREAC can play an important role in communicating our research outcomes and ongoing research funding needs to Congress, federal agencies, and private corporations and foundations. Regarding Congressional advocacy, I think we can enhance our current effectiveness by supporting programmatic grassroots efforts in the local district and state offices of our US Representatives and Senators.
4. What do you see as the most promising opportunity in your role as chief advocacy and research officer? What do you expect will be your greatest challenge in this role?
I’ve always considered myself a learner among learners. Accepting this new role will be an opportunity to learn from my colleagues and external counterparts and bring to the table lessons from my previous professional experiences. How to be “at the table” effectively is something the RWJF Health Policy Fellowship instilled in me, and I hope to translate this understanding into actions that will ultimately benefit the patients who will be cared for by our graduates.
However, I’m not sure that my past experiences have prepared me for near-future, potentially abrupt, changes to the health care system and practice landscape. With the anticipated repeal of major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the number of unknowns that lay before us is, I think, unprecedented. Over the next 2–4 years (allowing for mid-term election outcomes), the environment of PA education and practice may shift. We will need to be nimble and prepared to work closely with our colleagues at AAPA. Amid uncertainty and change, there can be threats — but also hidden opportunities.
5. During the past year you served as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) fellow here in Washington. Is there something that you learned during that time that you think will be especially valuable in your position with PAEA?
The RWJF Health Policy Fellowship transformed how I view our professional, policy, and political world. The 4-month fall orientation alone was an eye-opening experience with Fellows introduced to in-depth and personal insider perspectives from the “Iron Triangle” of Congress, the Executive Branch, and advocates.
My eleven months in the office of Senator Chris Murphy helped inform my understanding about how health policy progress can be accomplished in an insular Washington environment. Thoughtful members of Congress and their dedicated and bright staffers are hungry for accurate data and frank descriptions about real world student and faculty experiences and outcomes for the patients they care for. They clearly hope to match policy with reality. My RWJF experience and the knowledge about relationships that has accrued from it will be especially valuable in my new role.
6. What has surprised you most about being a leader?
That leadership is less a calling for most folks and more of a personal evolution. Early in my career, I bought into the idea that leaders are just “born that way.” I no longer subscribe to that thinking. Being an effective leader is built upon experience that forms a basis for credibility, a focus on the mission, active listening, learning from failures, and acceptance that no one person has all the answers. It is not about the leader so much but about how the leader unites the group around common goals and reduces barriers to achieving them.
7. What do you think you will miss most about not being at a PA program and teaching?
What a great question. I will miss it all — clinical, small group, and classroom teaching — as it has allowed me the distinct privilege to help shape the future practice of hundreds of students over the years. At Utah, we are razor-focused on our mission of primary care and underserved populations, and this has been the personal mission of my entire career.
8. Can you tell us something about you that most people probably don’t know?
I am an avid history buff — 19th and 20th century American history. Before serving in the Army as a Dustoff flight medic, I planned to become a history professor to teach and write books. However, while flying a Medevac on a frigid West German winter morning in 1978 at 2:00 a.m., I met an Army PA . . . and the rest, as they say, is history.