Have You Met Howard Straker Yet?

With the new year comes a new president of the PAEA Board of Directors. Taking the helm for 2020 is seasoned educator Howard Straker, EdD, MPH, PA-C, assistant professor for the George Washington University PA Program and director of their MPH/PA dual degree program. Having been a valued PAEA Board member for several years, he is no stranger to the ongoing work of the Association. Here are some of his thoughts about his new role and the year ahead.

Has running for president of PAEA been a long-held desire or was it something that came up more recently?
I decided to run for president the year of the 2018 election. Though I had been on the Board as secretary for several years at that time, I had no intention of running for president up until then. As my term was approaching its end, I reflected on my Board experience. I had appreciated working collaboratively with my Board colleagues in thinking about and implementing what would be the future of PAEA. The Board had helped expand the Association’s staff and resources and had increased the presence and awareness of PAEA in the health professions education world, the Congress, and federal agencies. We had shifted the volunteer structure and produced a new strategic plan. I felt there was more that I could contribute and that I was ready to take on more responsibility in helping to direct the team. I was also encouraged to run by PAEA members.

In thinking about the upcoming year, what aspects of your new role are you most excited about?
I am most excited about working with our new CEO, Mary Jo Bondy, to co-create the new CEO/Board relationship. It is an exciting time, having new leadership for the organization, as she brings a fresh set of perspectives and experience. With the organization already in very good standing, working with Mary Jo will help us become even better. It is an opportunity for us to look at how we are guiding PAEA and tweak it.

This is also a time of change in medical and health professions education, with new technologies, new areas of curriculum, and even a new generation of learners (Gen Z or Gen I) entering our programs. There is an air of change throughout our entire profession. I look forward to our work in finding ways that we can support PA educators in addressing the future. This includes looking at the role of the doctoral degree in PA education.  

What have you learned from observing previous PAEA presidents that will help you in your new role?
PAEA’s past presidents have done a tremendous job. They have steered us through both calm and choppy waters. Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.” And I have been watching them. I have learned and relearned lessons on the importance of balancing the big picture perspective with the details, as well as making strategic decisions with as much evidence (data) as is available within the necessary time period. While this sounds like common sense knowledge, from the previous presidents, I have learned how to maintain this perspective when you are in the thick of things, in the heat of the moment. 

What do you see as the most promising opportunity for PAEA in the next year or two?
One area of opportunity is inclusion and diversity. I see the new ARC standard as an incentive for PAEA and PA education. It is an opportunity to develop and promote inclusion and diversity in our programs and to be a model for health professions in general. The Association must develop materials to help our members meet this and other standards. The Board has already agreed to hire an officer for diversity and inclusion.

For our membership, one of the most promising opportunities is in the area of products that we can create to enhance the work of PA programs. This week features the launch of our new End of Curriculum™ Exam. This exam, which has been several years in the making, provides the opportunity for programs to administer a standardized evaluation of their students’ medical knowledge. It will free up faculty time and energy, which can be devoted to other areas of the program’s curriculum. There is also increasing growth in our interactive Digital Learning Hub for professional development of faculty. And we have created MAT (medication-assisted treatment) waiver training and curriculum materials on substance abuse disorder. Fostering further excellence in PA education is our ongoing goal.

What is the biggest challenge that you anticipate the Association will face?
I believe the biggest challenge is for the Association to not bite off more than we can chew. We have experienced tremendous rapid growth, and there are a lot of areas for us to address. We must be strategic in prioritizing where to place our energy and resources. There are new areas in health care and education, like health systems science and telemedicine, for which we should be at the forefront. At the same time, we must continue to address several ongoing critical issues like adequate quality clinical training sites. 

What have you found to be the most unexpected part of being a leader?
The most unexpected part for me is the number of unanticipated situations or unexpected aspects of situations that occur. Many times, there is a twist that is unexpected no matter how routine something appears to be or how much preparation or study has transpired. The number of times that this occurs continues to amaze me.

What advice would you give to those who are considering volunteer leadership but aren’t sure they are ready to make the move?
The fact that you are considering volunteer leadership means that you are ready to stretch yourself. There may never be a perfect time. So once you get that urge, look at the various leadership roles and speak with others who have been in those roles or are familiar with the role. Learn what the position entails and how to apply for it. Stay aware of calls for available opportunities. Maybe you are interested in working on something that we do not have a clear structure for. If this is the case, you might want to start a conversation with interested PAEA members. You can use the Digital Learning Hub or create an interest group as a vehicle for this purpose. Don’t be afraid to let other PAEA leaders or staff know about your interest. Various ad hoc volunteer opportunities arise throughout the year, and you could be called upon to participate.