AAPA-PAEA Research Fellowship

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Applications for the 2021-2022 AAPA-PAEA Research Fellowship are not being accepted at this time. The next application cycle will open in Spring 2022.

PAEA and the American Academy of PAs (AAPA) offer three one-year research fellowships annually to help lower barriers to faculty participation in research and build the pipeline of PA research leaders. This program provides a substantial investment to strengthen the research skills and productivity of qualified PA faculty to conduct high-quality, publishable research.

The Fellowship seeks to:

  1. Fund protected time to allow fellows to conduct research and expand their research agendas.
  2. Broaden the fellows’ knowledge of the medical research community, data sources, and build their professional networks with prominent medical research organizations.
  3. Build a strong cohort of research leaders who mentor future PA researchers and become PA research experts who advance the profession.

The AAPA-PAEA Fellowship provides 20 percent of the recipient’s base salary up to $25,000 to each fellow’s institution to secure protected time for research. This gives the fellows a 20 percent time release from teaching and other activities to allow them to focus on their scholarly activity of interest to the PA profession and PA education.

The Fellowship will include a two-to-four-day seminar at the PAEA offices in Washington, DC, and a two-to-three-day seminar at the AAPA offices in Alexandria, Virginia. Fellows will participate in exclusive Fellowship sessions and earn more than 40 Category 1 CME hours. Travel expenses to Washington, DC, will be covered in full; however, the COVID-19 pandemic may alter these plans and require virtual components.

Fellows are expected to use the release time to develop their research skills by completing and providing to PAEA a research project under the guidance of a mentor, engaging in educational activities, and broadening their knowledge of PA education and the PA profession. By the conclusion of the Fellowship, fellows should have completed their research and have their findings prepared for publication and presentation.

Individuals selected for the Fellowship will be conferred the title of PAEA Research Fellow.

How to Start Your AAPA-PAEA Research Fellowship Application

Read about Bettie Coplan’s fellowship application experience and tips here.


If you have questions concerning this grant program, please contact the Research team.

Current Fellows (2021-2022)

Learn more about our current fellows and their research topics. 

Alice Eggleston, MPH, PA-C

Clinical Research Investigator Atlantia Trials

Alice Eggleston the first non-faculty fellow. Her public health education before PA school and her interest in the big-picture perspective of health prompted her to pursue clinical research since becoming a PA in 2014. Through her research and clinical experience, she found that the PA workforce needed to explore the clinical research PA characteristics to develop new opportunities and standards in the field. Ultimately, Eggleston hopes PAs who have considered shifting their practice to a non-traditional role or non-clinical role can learn more about the research sector as an opportunity for professional growth. Understanding the breakdown of research PAs in the country will help characterize the gaps and opportunities in the research industry.

Eggleston is working with the American Academy of PAs (AAPA) on her project, Physician Assistants in the Clinical Trials Setting. The study aims to understand what roles PAs play in clinical trials, the characteristics of PAs practicing in clinical research, and what benefits or barriers PAs encounter while working in the clinical trials setting. The topic is essential to describe the PAs working in these non-traditional capacities and highlight an aspect of the PA identity. There is an increased demand for clinical research professionals. PAs do outstanding work in many areas of medicine, but it is not widely known how PAs contribute to the clinical research field.

Yolonda Freeman-Hildreth, PhD, PA-C

Assistant Professor and Diversity and Inclusion Committee Chair University of Detroit Mercy PA Program

Yolonda Freeman-Hildreth is an assistant professor and chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee at the University of Detroit Mercy PA program. Dr. Freeman-Hildreth also serves on the AAPA Commission on Research and Strategic Initiatives committee. She has practiced internal medicine as a PA for over 16 years.

In her project, Singled out: The Influence of Implicit Bias on Underrepresented Minority Student Recruitment and Retention, Dr. Freeman-Hildreth is exploring the influences of implicit faculty bias and students’ perception of inclusiveness on underrepresented minority (URM) recruitment and retention. The current demographics of the PA profession do not reflect the diversity of the US population. Recent research indicates that healthcare providers and educators, similarly to police officers, are not immune to implicit bias. Moreover, recent news stories have highlighted incidences where implicit bias has influenced clinical decision-making where treatment decisions were made based on stereotypical unconscious attributes among minority patients. Dr. Freeman-Hildreth seeks to provide best practices for improving PA program diversity, increasing self-awareness regarding existent biases and stereotypes among PA faculty, providing insight into how implicit bias impacts the perception of inclusivity among URM students, and providing recommendations for improving URM recruitment and retention within the profession. This research has implications for standardizing the recruitment and interview processes within programs by implementing protocols to reduce bias and creating an inclusive climate throughout PA education.

Nick Hudak, MPA, MSEd, PA-C

Associate Professor Duke University School of Medicine

Nick Hudak is an Associate Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health in the Duke University School of Medicine. He is a faculty clinical coordinator with the Duke Physician Assistant (PA) Program, a practicing PA in the Department of Neurology, and an Assistant Director in the Duke Center for Interprofessional Education and Care.

Mr. Hudak is studying the relationships between mistreatment policy factors (i.e., policy presence, content, dissemination) and the frequency at which students report mistreatment to their programs. Findings from his study, Policy Effect on Physician Assistant Student Mistreatment Reporting, will establish an evidence base to inform policy-driven practices to better support students and improve clinical learning environments. From a policy perspective, they will assist PA educators in revising, implementing, and evaluating mistreatment policy within their programs and establishing a foundation for future research.

Previous Fellows

Adrian Banning

Adrian Banning, DHSc, MMS, PA-C

Drexel University PA Program

Provider Well-Being Curricula and Student Well-Being in PA Education

Dr. Adrian S. Banning has been a physician assistant since 2006 specializing in primary care and focusing on the veteran population. She became a faculty member at Drexel University in 2008. As an associate clinical professor, she teaches the didactic section of PA education which includes evidence-based medicine.

Her previous research has explored the effect of art therapy on medical education and its relationship to communication, ambiguity, empathy, and well-being. Her Fellowship project will investigate associations between PA program curricula and student-reported well-being, in addition to associations between student demographics, program characteristics, and student well-being. Banning hopes that her study will prove valuable to PA programs seeking to meet the new Accreditation Standard B2.20 focused on provider wellness.

Stephanie Neary, MPA, MMS, PA-C Yale School of Medicine PA Online Program

The effect of a well-being curriculum on the mental health outcomes of first year Physician Assistant (PA) students

Stephanie Neary has been a physician assistant since graduating with an MMS in Physician Assistant Studies in 2015. She currently practices inpatient endocrinology in the Diabetes Management Service at the Medical University of South Carolina. She began her career as an adjunct faculty in 2012 and became an instructor at the Yale School of Medicine PA Online Program in 2017. Currently, she serves as an Assistant Professor Adjunct and the Director of Didactic Education.

Stephanie Neary was motivated to study PA student well-being because of her own experiences as a student in two master’s programs paired with her experience advising numerous didactic students. In her Fellowship, she plans to study the effect of a dedicated well-being curriculum on PA student mental health. Neary hopes that her curriculum will erase the idea of white coat infallibility and provide all students foundational skills in positive coping and self-reflection.


Learn more about these two fellows and their research here.

Vanessa Bester, EdD, PA-C

Augsburg University PA Program

Rigorous and Valid Qualitative Research: African American PA Student Success

Dr. Bester began teaching PA students in the clinical setting in 2007 and transitioned to full-time PA education in 2012, while continuing to maintain her clinical PA practice.

Dr. Bester’s primary research focus is inclusion and diversity within the PA profession and qualitative methodologies. Dr. Bester has published articles related to HIV and infectious diseases, military PAs, and the retention and barriers of minority PAs, faculty, and students. She serves on PAEA’s Diversity and Inclusion Mission Advancement Committee and is also the Primary Investigator for a Minnesota Department of Health Grant to educate students on opiate addiction treatment and expand PA student clinical training opportunities to urban and rural underserved communities in Minnesota.


Kari Bernard, PhD, MS, PA-C

MEDEX Northwest

Physician Assistant Burnout and Fulfillment related to Career Development and Physician Relationship

Dr. Kari Bernard has practiced clinically in cardiac electrophysiology, emergency medicine, urgent care, and occupational medicine since 2004. Dr. Bernard began her research training in 2016 through Walden University. After joining the faculty of the University of Washington MEDEX Northwest PA program as a lecturer at the Anchorage campus, she changed her focus from clinical practice to education and research and was promoted to site director. During her Fellowship, she earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Industrial and Organizational Psychology.


Bettie Coplan, PhD, MPAS, PA-C

Northern Arizona University

Q: Tell us about your research question for this project and its significance for the PA education and/or health workforce field?

A: I am looking at PA programs that use holistic admissions and have high proportions of underrepresented minority students. The main question is: How are they so successful? For the programs that are doing it well: What are their processes? What kinds of things inform that? And I’m specifically going to look at their culture.

For holistic admissions, you create a mission that articulates the benefits of diversity, and then you link your admissions criteria with that mission. And my hypothesis is that if you don’t have an organizational culture that values diversity, then creating a mission that values diversity will not be nearly as effective.

Q: What kinds of new information or understandings do you hope this research will generate? In what potential ways do you see the results impacting PA education or the workforce?

A: So this is qualitative research in a different way than I think most people are used to. I’m hoping to go into the program, interviewing faculty, staff, and students — learning about the process, the influences, that kind of thing. The research will not be generalizable in the traditional way that quantitative research is generalizable, but the goal is to provide enough detail in the description of the program so that other programs can see how this may or may not work for them and then transfer what they’ve learned from that in-depth analysis into their practices.

Q: What do you think are the most pressing topics for research in the PA field — either education or workforce — right now? 

A: We know that if we have a workforce population that looks more like our patient population that our outcomes may be improved. I think the issue of team practice needs further study. Even though the PA profession is very well established, there are many researchers looking at what the PA’s impact is on the team, what are the outcomes? I think that’s going to influence what we’re doing politically. I think we need to do more research that informs workforce projections. So how many more new programs do we need, because clearly there’s a provider shortage?

Q: What are your goals as a PA researcher? How do you see this fellowship fitting into any type of research agenda or career trajectory you are on?

A: I’ve been a PA educator now for 12 years, and I think at that 5- or 6-year mark you need to decide what you want out of that role. I love teaching — that’s my main thing. But aside from teaching, I want to be able to do research that helps the profession but also helps PA education.

The fellowship is amazing because it’s really going to give me time to focus on research. I think sometimes PA faculty are spread so thin that we can do a lot of things “okay” but we can’t do  a lot of things really well. So I’m hoping to do this really well so that it can be a benefit both to educational programs and to the profession.


Morgan Nowak, MS, PA-C

Shenandoah University

Q: Tell us about your research question for this project and its significance for the PA education and/or health workforce field?

A: My research question examines whether there’s a difference between racial and ethnic diversity between PA programs that have standardized testing admissions requirements and programs that don’t. I’m hoping through my research to be able to inform PA education in decision-making in the admissions process and whether the requirement for standardized tests like the GRE or MCAT outweighs the potential benefits of dropping that barrier to racial and ethnic diversity.

Q: What kinds of new information or understandings do you hope this research will generate? In what potential ways do you see the results impacting PA education or the workforce?

A: My research question is pretty well-defined. So if my hypothesis is proven — that is, I believe I will find that there is a lack of diversity in programs that require the GRE or MCAT — then that will give us some information to work with for future research. If PA programs are not satisfied with just that finding, then we need to look further at why that is the case. Is it because students that are applying to the programs consider it a barrier, or is it because cut-off scores after the applications have been submitted are being used by admissions committees to make decisions that prevent students from being interviewed and becoming matriculants? 

Q: What do you think are the most pressing topics for research in the PA field — either education or workforce — right now?

A: Definitely my topic of focus — diversity or lack of diversity and PA student cohorts — because that leads to our graduates and to our workforce. And the fact that our graduates don’t reflect the population that they’re going to be serving is a significant issue that we need to try to find solutions to in the future.

One other topic that I think needs to be looked at critically is the issue of clinical site shortages. With all of the new programs being established and additional students going out onto rotations, we have greater competition for clinical sites, along with the growth in contracting and paying for clinical sites. I think that’s something that needs to be looked into.

I think there’s a connection potentially between the lack of diversity in PA programs and clinical site shortages. If we had more representation from, say, veterans we might have more avenues into veterans administrations rotations and that would open up some clinical site opportunities.

Q: What are your goals as a PA researcher? How do you see this fellowship fitting into any type of research agenda or career trajectory you are on?

A: One aspect of the research fellowship that I’m most excited about is that it will offer me access to mentors who have been in the field for a long time and who are very well-educated in the topics that I’m interested in. This means that they will have insights to offer that I would not otherwise know about, as well as the ability to give me advice about how to develop my research skills, such as literature searching, methodology and design, pathways to publication, and other ways I can get my research out to the public.


Ryan White, MS, MPH, PA-C

Rutgers University

Q: Tell us about your research questions for this project and their significance for the PA education and/or health workforce field?

A: I have two research questions. The first is that I’d like to identify factors that may be predictive of PA wages outside of specialties. There may be socio-political demographics or state scope of practice environment factors that help to influence PA wages that are currently not understood or being hidden because of data-reporting techniques and survey methodology. If I can identify some of those variables, it may help to create a more robust understanding of predictors of PA wages outside of specialties.

The second question is an effort to identify predictive factors of permissiveness of state scope of practice laws. Are there factors at the state level that create barriers or allow for permissiveness of state scope of practice laws? And how can we address barriers and augment advocacy efforts to create a more favorable regulatory environment at the state level to produce a more efficient and successful PA workforce?

I think this work will help us better understand the variables that are influencing the workforce and the ability of PAs to practice to the top of their licensure and contribute at the highest level to the health system.

Q: What kinds of new information or understandings do you hope this research will generate? In what potential ways do you see the results impacting PA education or the workforce?

A: As PAs, if we are going to advocate for higher wages in our current position, if we are going to strive for gender equality, if we hope to achieve a level of standardization of wages — within a specialty, within a geographic area, within a practice setting — it’s important to understand the underlying factors that are influencing those wages to guide future policy and advocacy efforts.

The AAPA and state constituent organizations, as well as other stakeholders including PA programs, would benefit from a more robust understanding of the influences that help to shape the PA scope of practice environment.

Q: What do you think are the most pressing topics for research in the PA field — either education or workforce — right now?

A: With respect to PA education, I think we need a better understanding of clinical training models. With the shortage of clinical training sites that all programs are dealing with, and with the difficulty in preceptor recruitment and retention, I think it is vitally important that we have an approach that will allow for new and creative methodology for clinical training. We also need a better understanding of the factors influencing preceptor recruitment and retention. Those factors may be financial; they may be related to the practice environment or incentives. There may be some unique or groundbreaking approaches to clinical education that are not being explored or pursued by programs because of a lack of evidence underlying our understanding of these models.

With respect to the PA profession, we need to continue to grow the body of literature that investigates the impact of PAs on our health care system — whether that be the impact of PAs on the health of populations, the cost of care, or the safety and quality of care that’s provided.

Q: What are your goals as a PA researcher? How do you see this fellowship fitting into any type of research agenda or career trajectory you are on?

A: Through this fellowship, I hope to gain exposure to policymakers and thought-leaders, in the profession and outside of the profession, who can help me identify some of those factors and variables that may be influencing PA education and the profession more globally. I hope to gain skills, not only related to my own research, but to better integrate and coordinate PA education and practice research with funding agencies, policymakers, and other decision-makers at the federal level, which could lead to new and exciting research initiatives in the future.

Alicia Quella, PhD, PA-C

Augsburg University

Alicia Quella has a doctorate in epidemiology and is a PA in emergency medicine. She is an associate professor and program director of the Augsburg University PA program and an assistant affiliate professor at the University of Washington Department of Family Medicine.

Her research topics include health policy, workforce issues, medical error, emergency medicine, and global health. Consulting projects include collaboration with the Ministry of Health in the Lao PDR to build the PA profession. She currently teaches emergency medicine, epidemiology, and global health. Her passion is developing medical curriculum that encourages hands-on and active learning.


Christina Hanson, PhD, MPAS, PA-C

Bethel University

Dr. Christina Hanson has been a PA for nine years and has worked in family practice, orthopedic surgery, and urology. For the past five years, she has been a full-time faculty member at Bethel University PA program in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 2015, she began taking courses toward a Doctor of Education in Leadership in Higher Education degree and successfully defended her dissertation in 2018.

Her research is focused on the current lack of diversity in the PA profession by analyzing data collected by national PA organizations. She will compare the responses of underrepresented minority applicants to non-underrepresented minority applicants with regard to factors that impacted their decision to pursue the PA profession. She hopes this research will shed light on how and why people are choosing to become PAs, so that recruitment and retention efforts can be improved — particularly to increase the proportion of underrepresented minority PAs.


Virginia Valentin, DrPH, PA-C

University of Utah

Virginia Valentin has been a PA educator since 2012, having previously taught at the University of Kentucky. She joined the University of Utah Division of PA Studies faculty in February 2016, where she is currently the associate director and the director of graduate studies. Virginia earned a Doctorate of Public Health with a focus in epidemiology from the University of Kentucky in May 2017. She brings nearly two decades of clinical experience to her teaching.

Her primary research interest is improving patient outcomes and access to care through identification of patient, provider, and contextual barriers (e.g. organizational and regulatory) to care. Her publications to date have focused on the PA workforce, as well as understanding the utilization of PAs and the barriers to PAs providing patient care. Her dissertation increased the understanding of patient factors that influence the stage of melanoma diagnosis and treatment through analysis of physician density, as well as individual, social, and geographic factors within the state.