Donna Murray to Move into New Admissions Role

Donna Murray, DMSc, MS, PA-C

Since the fall of 2020, Donna Murray, DMSc, MS, PA-C, has been working at PAEA as the Clinical Training Outreach Project Director for the Opioid Response Network (ORN) sub-award. In this role, she has led the effort to increase the PA workforce pipeline for behavioral health practices treating patients with opioid use disorder.

Starting this week, Donna will be transitioning into the newly created role of Senior Director, Admissions, where she will lead all operations related to CASPA and develop projects to improve and enhance the CASPA applicant and program experience. Donna came to PAEA from the Lenoir-Rhyne University PA program, where she served as the director of clinical education.

To help us learn more about Donna, we asked her a few questions regarding her thoughts and plans for the future.

1. How do you think your experience heading up the Opioid Response Network Clinical Sites project for PAEA will help you in your new role?

My leadership role with the ORN-2 Clinical Sites Initiative has provided the opportunity to familiarize myself with the organizational structure of PAEA. In the last 7 months, I have been able to learn the culture of the organization and engage with my colleagues while developing an understanding of how the different teams within the organization support our members. I have also been able to learn how these teams interact with external partners and stakeholders, which has been invaluable.

2. What do you think are the major forces shaping higher education right now, and what opportunities do they provide for PAEA?

There are two main forces that I believe are shaping and impacting higher education. They are the increasing cost of education and the move towards a more holistic process for admissions. Many students are enrolling in community colleges or 4-year state undergraduate institutions as a means of combating the high cost of education. I think PAEA has an opportunity to change the narrative around how competitive these students can be in the admissions process with students from private 4-year undergraduate institutions. In my personal experience as a faculty member on an admissions committee, I fought for admission for students from institutions with very little name recognition or public institutions. These students proved to have equal levels of success in the classroom. With that said, I believe PAEA has an opportunity to work collaboratively with PA program admissions chairs to encourage active recruitment of students who traditionally would not be considered “upper tier” because of the choices they had to make when considering the cost of their undergraduate education.

3. 2020 was a particularly challenging year for everyone. What do you think educators and the PA profession in general learned from 2020?

Last year was a year that taught all of us how to dig deep and become innovative in ways none of us ever knew we could. I was the Director of Clinical Education at a PA program in North Carolina when COVID hit. My colleagues within my program and around the country had to pivot, and we had to do it quickly to support our students and each other. One of the most important things we as PA educators learned was how to quickly find resources to support our students, not only to allow them to continue their training in a new virtual environment, but we had to find new ways to support their emotional needs as well. As if the global pandemic was not enough, the murder of George Floyd and the resulting social justice movement created additional stressors for our students, particularly students of color. COVID, the social justice movement, and the 2020 election season exposed the inequities and inequality that exist in our country and in many ways required PA educators to grapple with issues that they had never encountered before. Many of our colleagues were forced to examine their own biases and ask tough questions of themselves about what it means to be an ally and what it means to be anti-racist. I had the privilege of being a panelist for PAEA’s faculty town hall. For the first time, my colleagues heard me say “I’m not OK, and our other colleagues of color are not OK either.”

As a profession, I believe we learned the importance of being ready to serve at all costs, at all times, under any circumstance. Our PA colleagues in the trenches everyday stepped up in a major way, risking their own lives to care for patients and communities under the most difficult conditions. As PAs, we receive broad training, and we have proved, since the onset of the pandemic, that when called upon, PAs were able to pivot to where they were needed most. Although we know we are more than capable of shifting quickly, in 2020, I believe we became aware that some segments of the healthcare community did not realize what we were capable of doing. As a profession, we learned just how critical it is for us to have the ability to practice under a true OTP model, and how this model on a national level will impact access to care and ultimately health disparities.

4. What areas concerning admissions would you like to see revised or changed?

We have to implement a process into admissions that lends itself to increasing diversity in the PA profession. The admissions process needs to include active recruitment of underrepresented minority students and African American males. I believe that PA Henry Lee “Buddy” Treadwell and Dr. Amos Johnson created a model demonstrating the need for African American males to enter into the space of providing care for underserved communities. Their legacy should inspire us to continue along this path leading more African American males to the PA profession.

5. What are your main goals for this new position?

I am grateful to have been charged with such an important role and that it is going to be a “heavy lift” that leverages my experience and aligns with my commitment to JEDI. However, this role can directly assist with developing a comprehensive program to support undergraduate health professions advisors to ensure that all students interested in the health professions area are aware that the PA profession is an option. Many students, regardless of race or ethnicity, are unaware when they enter undergraduate school that the PA profession is a viable option.

Along the same lines and in alignment with PAEA’s DEI goals, I would like to continue to  partner with PAEA’s Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer Monica Miles, PhD, and her team supporting the work of the HBCU consortium initiative. Additionally, I would like to develop a customized program to support undergraduate HBCU health professions advisors in preparing pre-PA students for the PA journey. This would include developing a formal mentoring bridge program for advisors and students that supports them from their freshman year through their CASPA application cycle.

6. The pandemic highlighted the inequities we have known about in our health care system for a long time. How does this affect the way we view and handle PA school admissions? 

I have been a PA for 25 years and have enjoyed a 40-year career in healthcare. I have served primarily in communities with major health disparities most of my career, so the inequities in healthcare are certainly no secret to me. I think there was a general awareness of health inequities; however, the pandemic brought those inequities front and center with an increased visibility because of mainstream and social media. We have a responsibility to usher those into the PA profession who are not just aware of health inequities, but who have a strong desire to make a real impact. As we consider changes that can be made within CASPA, we should consider including questions that address the candidate’s ability for self-compassion and empathy. The scholarly research associated with my doctoral studies revealed that compassion for self and for others improves patient outcomes. One or two questions in CASPA and questions at the program admissions committee level would be useful to help determine if a candidate has what I call the “it factor.”

7. When you do manage to have some free time, how do you like to spend it?

I am able to carve out time for fun. I enjoy gospel music and love live music of all kinds. I grew up in a house where music was a constant. So, I enjoy everything from Broadway show tunes and classical music to jazz, R&B, and even some hip hop. During the spring and summer months, you can find me at one of two places: some live jazz venue or on a beach. The ultimate is a beach with live jazz. I also love entertaining friends and family. Since COVID, I’ve given up my “gym rat status” and have replaced it with outdoor biking and walking/running.

During a transition period between now and the end of October, Donna will spend half of her time in the Senior Director, Admissions, role and the other half on the ORN initiative. Then, starting in November, she’ll move full-time to the role of Senior Director, Admissions.