Becoming a Full Professor While Black: Dr. Collett’s Mentoring Model for PA Faculty Advancement

DeShana Collett, PhD, PA-C

PAEA would like to congratulate DeShana Collett, PhD, PA-C on her promotion to full professor within the Department of Physician Assistant Studies at the University of Kentucky. I had the pleasure of discussing with Dr. Collett about her journey, from wanting to become a PA and ultimately a tenured PA faculty member. Becoming a tenured PA faculty member is an amazing accomplishment, especially as a Black woman. It is even more noteworthy because many Black faculty must overcome the Black Tax, the cultural tax of assisting with many diversity initiatives while navigating educational environments that are hostile towards minoritized people. When asked about her success, Dr. Collett humbly reminded me it was not her alone but there are a cadre of people that supported her as she navigated. She shared, “I had to learn to translate the skill of advocating for my patients to advocating for myself. As a PA, we learn this in a clinical setting, but it was as a new faculty member where I was the only one from a diverse background that I learned this skill.”

Dr. Collett is extremely committed to sharing her experience to mentor other PAs of color. In our interview, she did not focus on herself but rather the lessons she believes would be beneficial to others who might feel isolated as the only person of color in their programs. Dr. Collett shared how she is deeply rooted in a community of PAs of color, and she has surrounded herself with people that care about her wellness and success. She shared, “In my community, we show up for each other. I remember when we would meet in person at the PAEA Education Forum, and we could find new faculty of color and pull them in and let them know they are not alone. Even though it might look like it on your campus, we got you.”

In her career, Dr. Collett has found that institutional environments might not meet the needs of faculty members from diverse backgrounds, and they must look outside and expand beyond what is at their school. Dr. Collett has a mentoring network of individuals that she leverages to assist in her success. The people in her network serve three major roles. There can be more than one person in each role, and the person in each role can change based on her needs:

  • Sponsor: A person who is your cheerleader and has a voice or institutional power that can assist in advocating for you. They tend to be someone of senior leadership. They have a seat at the table and can advocate for you when you don’t have a seat. They will find you a chair so you can have access or receive recognition. This person can often work behind the scenes to bring your name up for awards or leadership opportunities. These people talk about you.
  • Mentor: A person who will give you critical advice on how you can improve and grow in your trajectory. They provide feedback based on their experience. The critical advice might not always be something you want to hear, but that you need to grow. These folks talk with you.
  • Coach: A person who can see the bigger picture but helps you focus on particular goals. They keep you in the game and help recognize what you can do to achieve your goals, whether it is improving or acquiring new skills. They listen to you, recognize your strengths and leverage this in a positive approach while they help you understand it is a journey. These individuals talk to you.

If you are feeling alone, Dr. Collett encourages her colleagues to seek out a broad network of sponsors, mentors, and coaches. She did not rise to her position solely on her own, and her network’s support remains invaluable as she continues her journey. With a dedicated, supportive network, you can do it! Dr. Collett reminds all of us to know you are worthy and have value, and no one can take that fact away. You will bring many contributions to institutional spaces that will impact people around you. But while you are impacting others, do not forget to go after what makes you feel joyful. You have earned that.