PALLA: Programmatic Evaluation for the 21st Century

Best Practices and Transformative Insights

By: PALLA – PA Leadership and Learning Academy of Maryland

PA educators share a common mission with our health professions colleagues — to launch the next generation of competent and compassionate health care providers. Like all explorers, we’re constantly checking our course and adjusting our path to ensure success. But how do we know which adjustments to make? How do we know when we’ve reached our destination? 

The process of programmatic evaluation and ongoing self-assessment is a continuous cycle of asking relevant questions, uncovering the right data, and using that data effectively. This is a crucial practice for any health professions program. However, too often we perform this important work in silos, never leveraging the experiences and expertise of our colleagues and peers.  

The PA Leadership and Learning Academy (PALLA) (a Maryland entity whose mission is to advance PA education, research, and policy) hosted a half-day symposium to bring together PA faculty, program directors, data analysts, program staff, and external experts involved in the programmatic evaluation process. The goal of the symposium was to spotlight our shared experiences and expertise, discuss best practices and tools, and build community. 

Meet the PALLA Team: The PA Leadership and Learning Academy (PALLA) supports the development of PA education across the state of Maryland and is comprised of the following team members: James F. Cawley, Elsa Ermer, Shani Fleming, Karen L. Gordes, Erin Hagar, Hyun-Jin Jun, Gerald Kayingo, Violet Kulo, & Emilie Ludeman, Gabrielle N. Ricks.

Twenty-five participants from across the country attended the PALLA symposium. During the opening session, PALLA presented the results of a research initiative designed to provide a descriptive analysis of the key characteristics, policies, practices, and processes for accreditation across five health professions. PALLA was able to clearly demonstrate to PA programs that the challenges and stressors they experience are shared among colleagues in nursing, pharmacy, physician assistant, physical therapy and undergraduate medical education.

Then, participants reflected on the “why” of program evaluation, by answering this question: “In a perfect world, what would the program evaluation process provide your students, program, or the healthcare industry?” Responses explored improvements in population health outcomes, reducing health disparities, and producing a cohort of competent and confident health care providers.  Participants also shared challenges that make it difficult to reach this aspirational place: a lack of time, training, and data support.  

In the “consulting-on-demand” segment, a panel of expert consultants who serve as accreditation advisors and mock site visitors across the country presented their thoughts on the program evaluation process. Participants broke out into small groups to ask specific questions related to sections A, B, and C of the ARC-PA standards. 

The last half of the symposium focused on concrete tools and approaches that can help programs collect and analyze available data available to them. PALLA’s Data Analyst, Dr. Elsa Ermer, used the “worked example” technique to demonstrate how programs might analyze and present quantitative and qualitative data from a sample PA course. An external vendor, Enflux, demonstrated its solution to program-level data collection and management. Finally, participants with PALLA’s guidance discussed barriers and solutions addressing, measuring, and documenting diversity, equity and inclusion, explored data visualization techniques for transparency and accountability, and reviewed practical applications of the PAEA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Toolkit, a resource to address ARC-PA’s new diversity standard.  

Reflecting on the day’s events, participants appreciated the opportunity to share information and network with each other and the consultants, experts. Some participants noted that the smaller participant size fostered dialogue and community building. A word cloud generated by participant response to the symposium’s closing question, “Please share any take-aways or highlights from today’s symposium” is reflected here:  

To build on the success of this symposium, the PALLA team will continue to analyze program evaluation processes across health professions and will disseminate these results across various platforms. Their long-range goal is to develop a comprehensive model for PA education quality improvement — documenting emerging trends, sharing innovative solutions, tools, and templates — all to help PA programs chart their course for the 21st century.