Assistant Director Moves Into Top Spot at ARC-PA

It seems that the executive director position at ARC-PA turns over once in a blue moon, so we wanted to find out about the person who was selected to take on this influential leadership role.

Meet Sharon Luke — in her own words.

What first attracted you to work for ARC-PA, and then to this particular position?

Years ago, in my first PA program directorship, I inherited a program in trouble and saw that the accreditation process could really improve a program. I’ve been a site visitor and, through that experience, was able to learn so much about accreditation and how programs that didn’t understand the Standards could get into trouble, while others who had a solid understanding of the Standards usually realized stellar outcomes. I’ve always been interested in having the PA profession maintain its high quality, and I am amazed at how PA programs work in creative and unique ways to do that.

As far as this role? I served on the Commission for nearly six years and saw the hard work of the Commission, firsthand. When the executive director position came up, I knew the importance of the role to the profession, and I thought I would throw my hat in the ring — and here I am.

How have your past jobs and experience prepared you for this role?

Having been a program director for a program in trouble, I know it can be difficult for some program directors to understand how to apply the Standards to their own situation. Having done that in my past, I can better understand that challenge. A lot of times adjustments need to be made to a program; sometimes certain Standards need to be revised. My past experience can help us in deciding what’s relevant for the current climate of medicine and what should be in the Standards going forward.

Also, I’ve had leadership positions in the past. I remodeled a community college program into a collaborative master’s program. I also founded a PA program in a liberal arts institution that had no medical programs at the time. I think my ability to revise or create systems from the ground up is going to help me here in the executive director role.

What are your top goals for the coming year?

I’ve been asked that question a lot. First, I really need to understand where we’ve been. Where are we now? Because my work as an assistant director has been from a remote location, I need to learn the details of what happens in the accreditation office and what we do there on a daily basis. Then I need to prepare a plan for the ever-growing workload. Next, revising the accreditation Standards document is a top priority.

Do you think a strong “4 Org” relationship is important to the ARC-PA’s mission? 

I don’t think any of the 4 Orgs can work in a silo, so we do need to have a strong relationship. Everybody’s going to have a particular role, and we need to work together to achieve the kind of quality we want for the profession.

What kinds of changes or trends do you see coming in accreditation?

We may be looking at a more streamlined process for maintaining the Standards. Programs may see more submissions to the portal in the future.

Drawing on your extensive background, what are a couple of your “lessons learned” that you bring to your new role within the ARC-PA?

My own perspective is that the education of the educators of a PA program is important for a smooth accreditation process to occur — keeping everyone informed so that programs can be successful. No one wants to have an adverse outcome, so the education of our educators and their administration is crucial.

So many institutions say “We want a new program.” But the administration barely understands the Standards or what is needed to develop a new program. They often try to make something happen with shortcuts that will not be approved in the accreditation process.

What influence do you think being a minority woman will have on your work in this role?

I have a personal perspective that is embedded in tenacity and diplomacy, as my colleagues have mentioned. I have an open mind and am able to think “outside of the box” as might be necessary to create a new direction, although I’m not interested in change just for change’s sake. But I look forward to finding a new direction for the Commission while staying true to ARC-PA’s mission and maintaining the quality of the PA profession.

With your appointment, now both accrediting organizations (ARC-PA and NCCPA) are headed by educators. Do you think this adds a new perspective to how accreditation is viewed and handled?

I don’t think so, since there have always been educators on the Commission providing input to the accreditation process. We’ve also used PA educators as site visitors. And we have PA educators, deans, physicians, and some public members on the Commission in order to achieve a balanced perspective.

The turnover for this position is extremely low. How many decades are you planning to spend as ARC-PA’s executive director?

I plan to retire from this executive directorship. I don’t have any plans to move elsewhere.

What’s the best piece of advice regarding your career that you’ve ever been given?

A lot of different people have given me advice over the years. I think the one piece that stuck with me the most was “consider the impossible.” Another one was “be proactive as much as possible.” So many people have tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to consider doing something spectacular, and I’ve said, “That’s impossible.” And they said, “Consider the impossible.” So I did!