Faculty-Generated Research Grant Winners Announced

PAEA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2017 Faculty-Generated Research Grant: Tony Miller, MEd, PA-C, professor and director of the Division of Physician Assistant Studies at Shenandoah University, and his co-PI, C. Jayne Brahler, PhD, associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Dayton.

This grant is an opportunity for researchers to gain support for their investigation of a question of critical interest to PA education and/or the profession. The winning proposal was chosen through a rigorous two-phase, blinded process. A panel of reviewers from the PAEA Research Council and the Grants and Scholarship Review Group comprise the review board.

The process is as follows:

  • Applicants submit a blinded letter of intent.
  • The review board invites three or four applicants to submit full proposals. The full proposal phase consists of an expanded and more detailed version of the letter of intent, which applicants are given approximately three months to finish.
  • A second round of blinded reviews occurs according to more exacting criteria.

In either of the two stages of review, if a reviewer suspects they may have identified any of the applicants based on their submitted materials, they are told to come forward and recuse themselves from the review of that applicant’s materials. The purpose of this blinded two-phase process is to identify the most rigorously planned research and dissuade reviewers from choosing award winners based on name recognition or personal ties.

Ultimately, the reviewers felt that Miller and Brahler’s proposal stood out among the rest for having the best question, methods, and potential impact. Recently, we had a chance to ask Miller and Brahler some questions about their forthcoming research. Here’s what we found out.

Congratulations on winning this grant. Can you tell us about your research question for this project and its significance for the PA education field?

The two research questions for this project are:

  1. Do Health Science Reasoning Test scores predict PA student didactic year success as measured by persistence, number of course grades less than “B,” and end of the post-didactic/pre-clinical grade point averages (GPAs)?
  2. Is there a significant difference in changes in PA student abilities to think critically as measured by the Health Science Reasoning Test, based on the pedagogical model a program uses?

When you consider the two research questions in concert, we are essentially asking if the role of PA education is not as much to disseminate facts to our students but rather to cultivate the students’ ability to think critically or exercise clinical reasoning. After all, critical thinking forms the cornerstone of professional judgment — so for students pursuing careers in medical fields, development of higher-order critical thinking skills is crucial. We are asking if our assessments for the PA students are actually assessments of the students’ critical thinking abilities. And, if one follows this line of thinking, it is natural to ask if one pedagogical approach is better at developing critical thinking abilities when tested side by side with others.

What types of results do you expect from this research, and what possible implications of the research do you foresee?

If one pedagogical approach to PA education is better at developing critical thinking abilities compared to the others, we would support wider adoption of that teaching model. One of the challenges in teaching PA students is the sheer volume of material that needs to be covered within a limited time frame. As the knowledge base for the profession rapidly changes and expands, greater emphasis must be placed on finding ways to optimize the learning process.

Gaining insight into the most effective pedagogies for fostering the growth of PA students’ critical thinking skills could help educators to implement learning experiences that encourage active learning and foster critical thinking, thereby preparing PA students to become competent, collaborative practitioners capable of managing the medical situations they will encounter in clinical practice. In addition, we anticipate that students who come to PA education with higher critical thinking ability may have more success as measured by persistence and higher GPAs.

What do you think are the most pressing topics for research in PA education right now?

That is a tough question. We don’t claim to speak for the rest of our colleagues. PA researchers are inquisitive about just about every aspect of PA education and are constantly wondering which teaching or assessment approaches are better, how we can predict success, and fundamentally, what works well and what does not work so well based on empirical evidence. However, if one were to pick some issues in PA education that might rise to the top, we might suggest answering questions about how to best address the clinical sites shortage, how to select the best and most diverse students, and how to ensure students are competent and ready to work in the profession at graduation.


Congratulations to Miller and Brahler!