University of Florida School of Physician Assistant Studies: Celebration of Diversity Week

The University of Florida School of Physician Assistant Studies (UF SPAS) values diversity and inclusion at the heart of its mission in the education of students. The recent annual Celebration of Diversity Week in partnership with the UF College of Medicine was an opportunity to honor these values and provide opportunities for students and faculty to engage with the vibrant community of Gainesville, FL. 

While a multitude of events and interactive activities take place during Celebration of Diversity Week, the inaugural event for 2022 was the “Faces of UF Med Diversity Week Photo Project,” showcasing the worlds of UF Health faculty, staff, and students. Panel discussions during the week focused on subset populations including first-generation students, the LBGTQIA+ community, and leadership focuses. These discussions served as a platform to gain perspective, share experiences, initiate conversations, inspire attendees, and engage in mutual understanding. The University of Florida’s National Public Radio station, WUFT, featured a segment with UF SPAS alumni, Leon Chen PA-C, to discuss the importance of accessibility to healthcare for vulnerable populations and how a community resource, the UF Mobile Outreach Clinic, is closing the gap. The week culminated with the Emerald Ball in which accepted under represented PA and medical students were welcomed and given a preview of the future we could build together. 

Student leaders created activities to highlight the perspective of diversity from the unique student lens. The DiversiTree Project, an interactive art installation, was led by the PA students and encouraged participants to take a Polaroid picture or remain anonymous and use a paper leaf to share “how others see me/how I see myself.” The Identity Board, led by the medical students, asked participants to connect a piece of string with aspects of their identity. The tree encouraged discussion on stereotypes and the strings fostered a sense of connection among difference. These boards were used in a group discussion at the end of the week. 

Jonathan Ooten, PA-S1, Class of 2023 Diversity Liaison shares the student perspective on diversity.

Q: Why is diversity important to include in the PA curriculum?

J.O: PA programs have a duty to produce fully competent and well-rounded healthcare workers. Being able to recognize cultural norms, terminology, and common adversities is a necessary part of that. Not only does this knowledge allow our patients to feel recognized and heard, but it will also increase our confidence in treating those patients. 

Q: How has Diversity Week impacted how you will practice as a PA in the future?

J.O.: I think it is important to recognize that one week is not enough to change how PAs are going to practice. We need to surround ourselves with constant reminders via educational social media pages, articles, and having hard conversations with our peers to really make an impact on our daily practices. For me, Diversity Week has been a reminder that patients aren’t a collective patient. Diseases may have symptoms that affect most people the same, but that doesn’t mean we treat every patient the same. We need these reminders more often!

Q: What has made the biggest impact on you this week?

J.O.: Listening to the experiences of my peers and mentors has made the biggest impact on me. I hope I’m not the only one, but sometimes hearing stories from people I love and respect makes adversities and struggles that I have not been through feel more real. Having these conversations has made me feel more connected to these people. I could not ask for more!

Academia and healthcare must strive to expand diversity and gain cross-cultural understanding to address healthcare disparities. It is within diversity that medicine gains its humanism and the patients we treat become more than a diagnosis.