Health Systems Science: A Valuable Part of the PA Curriculum and the PA Profession 

We, as PA educators, spend most of our instructional time teaching our learners about medicine. We focus intently on clinical presentations, physical examinations, treatment plans, and the medical science behind it all.  We are, however, also tasked with teaching our learners about the science that surrounds how we deliver care, how we prevent errors, how we ensure our care is accessible to everyone, and how to better understand and improve the places in which we practice. These topics are the framework of Health Systems Science, and they are worthy of a place in our already full PA curricula. Teaching and learning about the domains of Health Systems Science benefits our patients, our learners, and our profession.  

Our patients benefit from enhanced safety in the delivery of care that results in fewer errors. Health Systems Science supports accessibility of care and can identify and mitigate – or even eliminate – disparities in care. The outcomes of research in processes, quality improvement, human and systems factors, and population health can spark innovation and can illuminate new ways to deliver superior care even in resource-challenged settings.  

Our learners benefit from an education that includes Health Systems Science domains. They will be practicing in a health care system that has become increasingly complex. They will need to work within it, and sometimes work to expand it, to advocate for the needs of their patients and even themselves as professionals. Our learners will also benefit from being trainees in PA programs that harness Quality Improvement tools to strengthen their curriculum and instruction. 

We, as PAs who study Health Systems Science domains, not only improve the lives of our patients and the experiences of our learners, but we also elevate our profession. As PAs who are well-versed in the domains of Health Systems Science, we become not just providers of excellent care, but we also become known as members of the health care team whose knowledge and expertise extends beyond patient care. We become the champions of patient safety, guardians of health care that is accessible and just, a resource for quality improvement initiatives, reliable and trustworthy leaders, and skilled educators who expertly train the next generation of PAs.  

In addition to learning the content and skills within each of the Health Systems Science domains, we also need to adjust our mindset. We must be willing to learn new concepts and be open to new ideas. Much of this work involves identifying problems or bringing imperfections to light. We should not see this as a value judgment or as evidence of personal failure, but rather as a starting point from which we will move forward with newfound knowledge to improve the situation. We cannot not hide behind the old habits and traditions of how we’ve always done things. We need to challenge ourselves and our systems to improve, to be better. We, as PAs, are perfectly positioned to lead these efforts.

The other stories in this series can be found on the PAEA website. The first story is here, the third story is here, the fourth story is here, the fifth story is here, and the sixth story is here.