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EDI in Action: Student at Sullivan University Provides EDI Awarness to her Cohort

This month, our EDI team connected with a student and a faculty member at the Sullivan University PA program in Louisville, Kentucky.  Fianna Ford, a first year PA student, was nominated by her classmates to become the diversity chair for her student society board.

Fianna Ford

After taking the position in her second quarter, Ford, began to prepare information she could share with her cohort once a week. She currently sends newsletters every week, along with a video, highlighting important issues within underrepresented populations that provide important information for future healthcare providers.  

Some of the topics are directly inspired by what is learned in her PA program, like how hypertension has a disproportionate impact on the Black community. Other times, Ford might write about how the change in public transportation to magnet schools can make it more difficult for people from underrepresented communities to access better opportunities for education that may ultimately impact their lives in the future.

Ford, a single mother who will turn 30 this year, is working while enrolled in the PA program. She already has a master’s degree in athletic training and worked in that field for about five years at a high school. As a student returning to school, Ford said she wasn’t sure she would be able to commit to the diversity advocacy she wanted to provide to her cohort because of her other responsibilities.

“I knew that this PA program was going to be rigorous, so I was nervous to attach something else to the workload. Being one of two black students and one of 11 minorities in a class of 65, it was important to me to give it a go. I thought, ‘Maybe I should be the diversity chair and help the class, my future co-workers, and myself become a little bit more culturally aware and culturally competent,’” she said,

Throughout her matriculation in the program as well as becoming the EDI chair, she says that she realized that a large percentage of every subject they covered affects underrepresented populations more than majority populations which is why awareness needs to be brought to the forefront of both providers and patients.

“I felt like maybe if I could better educate myself in these areas, maybe I could educate my fellow students and future patients and colleagues,” she said.

If other programs are interested in starting an informational program like the one from which the Sullivan PA program has benefitted, Ford shared how she went about it.

“The first thing I did before I began creating my Information Fridays was create a poll asking my classmates what subjects related to diversity are of interest to them. This way I could better target the disparities that were of interest to my classmates to help them become better educated in areas that are important to them. My advice to the PA educator who wants to bring awareness to their program is to ask the students what topics they are interested in and brainstorm fun creative ways to help bring awareness to those specific populations,” Ford said.

Once a week, Ford sends out a newsletter.  Each week, she highlights one subject with a focus on how it affects an underserved population or minority community so she and her classmates will know what to look for when they are practicing PAs.

“My goal with the informational is to be able to be proactive in-patient care to help preserve and or even save the lives of others. We can’t help others if we don’t know how,” she said.

Ford said the subject matter she writes about has become broader as she becomes more aware of how some environmental conditions can affect people’s health. For instance, she wrote about how Jefferson County Public Schools, or JCPS, cut bus routes for magnet schools in the Louisville area.

“I’m not sure if they thought about the effect on minority students or those who don’t have transportation to get to school other than the bus. All those things may have a domino effect on health care, mental health, (and other wellness concerns.)  They’re just not thinking about it,” she said.

While Ford said she has found ways to manage her time to fit the newsletter into her schedule, she admitted the effort can be frustrating because she sometimes has concerns, she’s not reaching the other students in her program But, Ford said, even if one person read it, that’s a start.” If Ford can “just ignite a little fire for change, that’s an accomplishment.”

“I’m really in it to changes lives. One thing I’ve found, is that my purpose here on earth is truly making a difference. Whether that’s making people smile or in the field of health care. If I can share my passion for (diversity awareness,) enlighten people on the things that are going on around in our communities, maybe that will help increase awareness and from there, the disparities in healthcare will begin to lessen,” she said.

Melissa D. Edds, MS, PA-C, director of clinical education and assistant professor at the Sullivan PA program said she had been co-advisor of the program’s student society for years.

“I’ve never seen anyone run with an idea like Fianna has. She so impressed me with her efforts, I called her into my office (and emailed her in November 2023), and I told her I wanted to see her efforts reach even further,” Edds said. 

“The infographics Fi creates and shares focus on many aspects of healthcare, diversity, exposing bias, homelessness, and other topics we may turn a blind eye to or not ‘see’ until they are uncovered. These infographics have served as a unique vehicle for education and outreach within our program and beyond the college’s walls,” she added.

Ford has considered ways to increase the likelihood that her messages are being seen. She considered making a video she would show during class hours to be sure she had the attention of her peers.

“But I’m doing it through email so I’m just hoping and praying that people are interested in making a difference just as much as I am because of that information.  … I think it’s just so important. If just one person is looking at it, that’s one person who knows something they didn’t know before,” she said.

Edds said it’s undeniably true that Ford is having a positive impact.

“The topics she has shared have been enlightening-especially because many of the things she educated us about exist right outside our doors. I am a huge believer and advocate of the tenet that the very best leaders are often your hardest working servants and Fianna has once again solidified that belief for me. She’s done an exceptional job with her position as Diversity Chair. She’s inspired others. She’s done well in her courses. She’s balanced her family life and school. She’s definitely made a positive impact. She’ll be an outstanding PA-C. One I will be proud to call a friend and colleague,” she said.

Ford said some of her interest in diversity education came from working with teens as an athletic trainer. Seeing the diversity at the high school where she worked and the links between being informed about the variety of experiences in people’s lives and the way it interacted with their health, Ford said she has become very aware of the impact of diversity.

Seeing the needs of so many populations as EDI has inspired Ford to make ambitious plans for her future.

“I’ll eventually want to have my own mobile health care unit/truck that goes out to rural areas and areas with predominantly minority populations who need healthcare and lack the necessities to access it. I don’t know how and when, but I will. And that is one of my major goals in my future career.” she said.