EDI in Action: Drexel Helps Students Acclimate to PA School

PAEA’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Team is excited to launch EDI in Action. Every month we will identify a PA program that is seeing success in anti-racist and inclusive programming. While many programs are eager to support their underrepresented in medicine (URiM) students, faculty, and staff, some are unsure what to do. PAEA’s DEI Toolkit is one tool that programs can use to initiate or increase programming. We hope these examples serve as inspiration and a model that other programs can follow.

Our first spotlight is on Drexel University’s new pre-matriculation orientation. We sat down with Drexel’s faculty, staff, and students to hear about this initiative and the impact that it’s already had on their program.

Juanita Gardner, MPH, PA-C, clinical assistant professor; Julie Kinzel, MED, PA-C, interim department chair, program director; Meg Schneider, MMS, MSPH, PA-C, assistant clinical professor, curriculum coordinator; and Martha Davis, assistant director, admissions and clinical education discussed hearing from URiM students about the struggles they faced within the program. These students weren’t necessarily struggling academically, but more so environmentally as they couldn’t find their footing within the program and found themselves falling behind their peers. The faculty looked at the data and saw that a higher percentage of URiM students were taking a leave of absence and had higher attrition rates compared to their white counterparts.

Looking at other PA programs and medical schools for inspiration, they saw that some medical schools had URiM-focused programming before the academic year began. So, Drexel started to work on their own pre-matriculation orientation. After getting buy-in from the dean and administration, they held regular committee meetings dedicated to constructing a weeklong orientation program that would focus on community building, study strategies, and practical skills such as personal finance. While the program was developed for URiM students, to ensure inclusivity. Drexel contacted the entire matriculating class with a letter that detailed the orientation and asked them to submit a personal statement on why they wanted to attend. The outreach garnered a cohort of 11 students with a variety of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Once the students arrived, they were met with a week of programming starting with an introduction to Drexel’s URiM faculty who took the time to affirm the student’s presence within the program. One of the student participants said that seeing this kind of representation within the faculty was important to her because she had never seen such a diverse faculty before. Their packed schedule included sessions with speakers from across Drexel’s campus including the assistant dean of DEI and even someone from the athletic center who led them through team building activities. Students who attended the orientation mentioned that one of their favorite components was the practice anatomy lecture. This involved pre- and post-testing, as well as a group presentation that the students gave on their last day. The chance to practice note taking, testing, and presenting in a controlled, stress-free environment instilled students with confidence for the real thing.

After speaking with students who attended this orientation, it is clear how much it has impacted their first few months in the program. They cite how the sense of community they feel among their classmates and faculty has made them feel supported and even cared for. The friends they made in orientation are now their study groups. The professors they met are now their mentors. One student who attended had originally started Drexel’s PA program in 2021 but had to take a leave of absence. She credits her success to the orientation and states that the difference in her experiences within the same program, just one year later, feels miles apart. Several of the participants are eager to participate in next year’s iteration to help the new class of matriculating students.

When asked for advice to share with other PA programs who are interested in a similar initiative, Drexel’s faculty stressed listening to current URiM students and looking at attrition data. They also note that it is crucial to have support from faculty and administration. To successfully pull this off, there must be a concrete understanding that change is needed within the program. What works for one program isn’t necessarily the answer for every program; however, there is much that we can learn from Drexel University’s approach to creating a more inclusive and equitable environment for their students. For more guidance on how to develop anti-racist programming, see PAEA’s DEI Toolkit here. If you have additional questions or are interested in having your program featured in EDI in Action, please contact PAEA’s EDI Coordinator, Ranya Shannon at rshannon@paeaonline.org.