5 Years of Excellence: Evaluating the PAEA Research Grants Programs from 2011–2017

Doing something without evaluating it is like shooting into the dark — you know you pulled the trigger, but you have no idea if you hit the target. PAEA wants to know if we’re hitting the mark in our support of research, while also quantifying the outcomes of our efforts. Research-minded folks are particularly averse to intangibles; a favorite mantra of social scientists is “If it is real, then it can be measured.” Although grants from PAEA (and its predecessor, APAP) can be traced to 1999, documented outcomes — publications, presentations, etc. — associated with funding are inconsistent.

In July 2017, PAEA research staff surveyed all 23 principal investigators (PIs) who received research awards during the past five years to measure funding impact and provide a baseline for future efforts. Twenty-one PIs completed the survey, reflecting 23 awards (one author won three awards) for a response rate of 91.3 percent. We draw on the results of this survey here to give an overview of the outcomes of PAEA’s recent research grants and provide specific information on each opportunity.

Overall Results

First and foremost, the grants are spurring publications and presentations: 44 percent of PIs reported publishing their PAEA-funded research in a peer-reviewed academic or professional journal. Six of the publications were in JPAE and JAAPA, one in Medical Care Research and Review and one in Family Medicine. A total of 37 scientific presentations were given nationally and internationally on research funded by PAEA between 2011 and 2016, with a reported average of two presentations for each award. These presentations were given at the following venues: AcademyHealth’s Annual Research Meeting, the AAMC Health Workforce Research Conference, the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health International Conference, the International Health Workforce Collaborative, and the Canadian Conference on Medical Education.

Overall, respondents reported that the grant opportunities increased collaboration with other PA faculty researchers, fostered the development of their research skills, advanced their careers, and helped promote PAs in interprofessional and/or international settings.

Now that we’ve seen the overall picture, let’s drill down a little further and look at each grant opportunity.

Don Pedersen Research Grants

The Don Pedersen Research Grants program initially began in 1997 as the APAP Research Institute Small Grants program. Pedersen’s first donation to the program occurred that same year. The present endowment, with donations and subsequent board contributions, was created in 2013 to fully fund the program. The name of the grants program was then changed to the Don Pedersen Research Grants program to honor Pedersen’s generous contributions. This grant program is intended to foster early career PA faculty development through research — both about PA education and workforce issues — that is aligned with PAEA’s strategic goals. Each year, the PAEA Grants and Scholarship Review Committee reviews blinded proposals and awards up to $7,000 each to between one and four researchers, with a total possible allotment of $21,000. Bonus points are given to proposals that demonstrate collaboration between researchers from different institutions or between junior and more experienced researchers, to PIs with less than five years’ research experience, or to PIs who have not previously received a Don Pedersen Research Grant, Faculty Generated Research Grant, or Board Designated Research Grant.

Seventeen of the 25 research awards given out between 2011 and 2016 were Don Pedersen grants, making it the most-awarded PAEA research grant in this sample.

  • 15 of those 17 PIs completed the survey.
  • 5 of the awardees reported publishing their work in a peer-reviewed academic or professional journal.
  • 20 scientific presentations were reported by the 15 PIs.

One of the PIs wrote, “The Don Pedersen award I received…was my first experience as a principal investigator. It provided a pivotal opportunity for me to lead a project from beginning to end. The Don Pedersen award gave me confidence in my ability to conduct health services research. I have since participated as a co-investigator or principal investigator on six larger projects.”

The PAEA Research Mission Advancement Commission (RMAC) and the PAEA Research Team would like to extend a hearty “thank you” to Don Pedersen and the Pedersen family for their contributions to building PA education and workforce research.

Faculty-Generated Research Grant

The Faculty-Generated Research Grants (FGRG) program has been active since 2015, with two awards made thus far: to Perri Morgan, PhD, MEd, PA-C, of the Duke University PA program and Tony Miller, MEd, PA-C, of the Shenandoah University PA program. The objectives of the FGRG program are to promote quality PA education scholarship and the profession, increase research capacity and collaboration across member programs, and encourage the development and training of emerging PA education researchers. Aimed at more experienced researchers, at $50,000, it is the largest research award offered. The goal is to expand the existing body of knowledge about PA education and give priority to projects with rigorous methods and analyses that address novel research questions and align with the PAEA Strategic Plan.

While Tony Miller is still in the midst of conducting his research with co-PI Jayne Brahler,  PhD, of the University of Dayton, Perri Morgan and her Duke University colleagues Christine Everett, PhD, MPH, PA-C, Kristine Himmerick, MS, MPAS, PA-C of UCSF, and Patricia Deter, MPA, PA-C, have already established some impressive outcomes.

Morgan and her colleagues purchased PA job opening data and investigated the demand for PAs by state. To date, they have published two articles based on this research: “Scarcity of Primary Care Positions May Divert Physician Assistants into Specialty Practice” in Medical Care Research and Review, and “Job Openings for Physician Assistants by Specialty, 2014” in JAAPA. Their findings were presented at the 2016 Annual Research Meeting of AcademyHealth, the 2016 AAPA conference, and the 2016 International Health Workforce Collaborative.

“This award allowed us to start a longitudinal database to track the job market for PAs, said Morgan. “We made a number of presentations and published articles that we believe could influence policy and are pleased about that. We were able to include a more junior researcher, and she gained considerable experience with this project. We established collaborations with other institutions that might use the data and collaborate with us on publications, and we created a website that makes some of our results available to the public.”

Scientific Meeting Scholarships

These scholarships complement the other research grants and fellowships and are intended to support dissemination of work generated by PA faculty researchers. The PAEA Board of Directors has set aside $10,000 per year for up to five $2,000 awards that finance travel costs for presentations at scientific meetings outside the usual PA venues. The aim is to increase PA research visibility at national meetings and enhance interprofessional networking and relationship-building opportunities. In a sense, these awards help PA faculty to be ambassadors of the profession and foster interprofessional research.

Three of the five PIs who received scientific meeting scholarships presented in international settings. One of the awardees wrote, “This scholarship exposed attendees of the Canadian Conference on Medical Education, which is attended by PAs, physicians, and medical students, to research conducted by a PA about PA students. As PAEA is aware, the PA profession is expanding globally, and the opportunity to represent American PA research at a Canadian venue promotes the profession and indirectly promotes the Canadian PA expansion.”

AAPA–PAEA Faculty Research Fellowship

PAEA is committed to building the research capacity of the profession and fostering research innovation and excellence. As part of this commitment, we are teaming with research staff colleagues at AAPA to offer the AAPA–PAEA Research Fellowship. The goals of the Fellowship are to develop a cadre of PAs skilled in PA education and workforce research, encourage use of PAEA and AAPA data to generate research of interest to the PA profession and the PA community of scholars, and provide future research mentors to newer faculty to sustain the PA workforce and education research pipeline. Every year, the AAPA–PAEA Research Fellowship Advisory Council will select three fellows, each of whom will receive up to $25,000 to support them in devoting 20 percent of their time to research. PAEA recently announced the first cohort of AAPA–PAEA Fellows.

What’s Ahead?

The PA profession has come a long way in the past 50 years, and investments in research and researchers will further advance our role in health professions and clinical practice policy development. However, these investments may not provide immediate dividends — research is a slow-moving enterprise in a fast-moving world. It demands meticulous attention to detail, patience, and — above all — time. But the elevation of the profession in the context of health professions academia is largely premised on our ability to contribute to scientific discourse, and these benefits are exponential.

In the meantime, the PAEA Research Team and RMAC have our sleeves rolled up, planting seeds for the future, ready to help grow the next batch of talented PA education and workforce researchers.


Donovan Lessard, director of research, contributed to this article.