Don Pedersen Awardees Address Student Performance and Well-Being

PAEA is pleased to announce Stephanie Neary, MPA, MMS, PA-C, assistant professor adjunct and director of didactic education at the Yale PA Online Program, and Daniel Thibodeau, DHSc, MHP, PA-C, professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School PA Program, as the 2023-2024 Don Pedersen Research Grant awardees after a competitive, blind review process.  

In “Exploring the intersection of flourishing and the social determinants of health among medical, physician assistant, and nurse practitioner students: A mixed-methods approach,” Professor Neary explores how individual values and the social determinants of health are related to student perceptions of flourishing. 

Stephanie Neary, MPA, MMS, PA-C, Yale PA Online Program

As a faculty member, she has observed that individual, social, and economic factors, such as imposter syndrome, food insecurity, and a lack of community, can negatively impact her students’ academic performance. The goal is to explore how the social determinants of health may impact a student’s ability to flourish to expand resources and promote well-being through training.   

Neary was a 2020-2021 AAPA-PAEA Fellow, and her current Don Pedersen grant-funded project is aligned with her doctoral dissertation. She aims to integrate her work on student well-being into an interdisciplinary, social-ecological model that incorporates social determinants of health to address inequities in training. The hope is to shift how learning environments are designed and facilitated to promote individual flourishing and clinical acumen and bring solutions to the PA profession’s mental health challenges. 

Daniel Thibodeau, DHSc, MHP,
PA-C, Eastern Virginia Medical
School PA Program

Similarly, Dr. Thibodeau’s study, “Longitudinal Assessment of Academic Performance Based on Prior Academic Success in Physician Assistant Studies,” evaluates student performance by investigating the difference in academic success in PA schools based on prior sequencing of past academic coursework. The project originated when EVMS faculty members noticed a pattern in prerequisite sequencing that appeared to correlate with some students’ struggles early in the didactic phase, which they wanted to investigate further.  

Thibodeau and his co-principal investigator, Mohan Pant, PhD, associate professor, at Eastern Virginia Medical School, will use canonical correlation to measure the association among variables such as academic achievement and working habits to identify the causes of academic struggles in the didactic year. The goal is to use this broader point of view to develop an early warning system that PA programs could use to identify learning challenges and proactively act as an improvement in changing assessments in the early phases of the program, modify their approach, and improve student learning behaviors for future success.

Mohan Pant, PhD, Eastern
Virginia Medical School

In addition, this system could assist in admissions by helping guide potential applicants in the correct course and trajectory of prerequisites needed for admission. As a result, students would be better prepared for the rigors of PA school. 

Both grant awardees understand the importance of research and its ability to advance policies and practices that provide holistic solutions to academic performance and student well-being. They encourage their colleagues to find their research passion, identify their research questions, and be patient and thorough in their proposals.  

We look forward to working with Professor Neary and Dr. Thibodeau. We thank Don Pedersen, PhD, PA-C, and Kathy Pedersen, MPAS, PA-C, for their generous and ongoing support of PA researchers. The support of the Pedersen family and the PAEA Board of Directors plays a vital role in fostering the development of PA researchers. 

The next Don Pedersen Research Grant application cycle will open this spring. If you are interested in applying, both researchers recommend that applicants find research passion, identify their research question, and be patient and thorough in their proposals. Professor Neary also encourages applicants to start early and not be discouraged by an unsuccessful application but view it as a learning experience that will strengthen their future proposals. 

If you have any questions about PAEA research grants and support programs, contact us at or call 703-651-8540.