EDI in Action: Virginia PA Program Uses DEI Toolkit to Create Achievable and Measurable Goals

Anne Schempp MPAS, EdD, PA-C, became program director at Shenandoah University’s PA program in 2020 with a goal of making actionable change in areas of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).

Initial work in the program focused on reducing barriers to application by revising their admissions through fully integrating a values-based, race-neutral admissions structure. This resulted in a doubling of their application volume and an increase in the racial and ethnic diversity of their student body with 48 percent of their most recent cohort identifying as students of color.   

Schempp emphasized that they achieved this feat without compromising academic standards and, in fact, their average GPA of matriculants increased. The PAEA DEI Toolkit was a helpful resource in identifying best practices and goals as they made changes to their admissions process.

Schempp and her faculty knew that the next steps were to engage the larger program community in their EDI work and this has been their focus over the past year and half. One Saturday they invited any and all students, alumni, adjuncts, full-time staff, and other stakeholders that wanted to participate onto campus for a half-day workshop dedicated to defining important terms and creating achievable goals as related to EDI. Schempp utilized PAEA’s DEI Toolkit as a guide for the meeting.

First, they workshopped definitions. As the DEI Toolkit states, “Goals should be unambiguous, achievable, and measurable. This is done by defining cultural diversity perspectives as they relate to your program’s desired outcomes.”

The group started by identifying the stakeholders in their larger community, from students to patients to preceptors. After workshopping important definitions as a group, they used these words to build goal statements that fit their program.

To ensure that these goals were accurately representing the needs of the program, they got feedback from a variety of stakeholders who are members of their larger community. Goals were drawn from sources that included the survey that is distributed to Shenandoah’s alumni eight months after they graduate and from brainstorming with the students, faculty, and staff who were unable to be present at the Saturday work group.

The clinical team sent an update on this work to preceptors to increase awareness of the work the program was doing. Step six of the DEI Toolkit emphasizes “a commitment to continued analysis, reflection, and feedback, so that any decisions or changes are based on data and insight.” By implementing the feedback that they received, the program created community investment and ensured that resources from Schempp’s program would be utilized on EDI initiatives that were needed.

From these conversations, it became clear that inclusion was a high priority for the program, so a unique arts-based inclusion activity was created.  While this might seem out of the norm for a PA program, Shenandoah University recognizes the importance in the intersection of art and science as the institution originally started as a music conservatory.

While they have expanded to include health professions, business, technology and more, the Executive Dean for Creativity and the Arts, Michael Stepniak, works to foster a shared creative mindset across the university community. The arts-based inclusion activity that he facilitated with the program promotes an examination of observation and perspective through visual art and has been done with all current PA students, faculty and staff in their program providing a unique shared experience for their larger community.

PAEA encourages PA programs to take after Shenandoah’s lead by using the DEI Toolkit with community stakeholders to create an equity, diversity, and inclusion roadmap tailored to your program’s mission, vision, and values.