José Guillén on Hispanic Heritage Month

From September 15 – October 15, PAEA will celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, which honors and celebrates the history, cultures, and contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans. This month, we will share stories from PA educators and students, sharing their experiences and how we can all contribute to making the PA profession a safer, more equitable place for individuals from all walks of life.

José Guillén, MPH, PA-C

We are thrilled to begin the month by sharing insights from José Guillén, MPH, PA-C, whose road to PA education was long but rooted in deep care and passion for his community, culture, and education.

Throughout his career, José worked in Japan as an English and hip-hop teacher, in LA studying HIV and AIDS, in San Francisco in addiction research, and finally, as a PA after he earned a dual physician assistant/Master of Public Health degree at Emory University.

As a PA, José discovered a passion for educating patients, taking extra time to ensure they were heard, understood, and valued. He then became interested in PA education, which led to his current faculty position at Oregon Health & Science University’s (OHSU) Division of Physician Assistant Education.

Looking back, José believes each professional position he held before becoming the co-director of clinical education at OHSU led him to find his life’s intention: to impact generations of patients by educating one student at a time. “As an educator, I hope that in teaching my students across the years, each one of them will be able to impact a whole bunch of people,” he said.

As a PA educator, José considers himself a “time traveler” by being able to help his students in their future careers by offering them additional support today. “In education, when you can see that there is a gap in your student knowledge, you can take a little bit of time to explain the way the concept has been taught, what the book says, and then combine those with some practicality. I can spout facts, but that’s rarely going to stick. If I can create a story, that’s something that they will remember. And it’s easier for them to recount later to other people.”

Embracing Inclusivity in PA Education

To José, it essential to show up authentically. “Early on, one of my mentors told me, ‘If you’re not at the table, then you’re for dinner,’ which is a bold way of expressing the notion of being a person of color,” he reflected. “I’m in a minority group in a lot of different ways. I’m Hispanic, but I’m also queer, and I’m poly – I’m out. And having those facets of myself out to the patients made it easier for patients with similar experiences. They felt they were heard and understood.”

José said he believes it matters – for both their patients and students – for PA educators to be open about the multiple facets of their identities. “I think the more of those facets that we have out there, as providers and as educators, then the easier it is for other people in those minority groups also to experience inclusivity.”

In considering what inclusive, equitable spaces look and feel like to him, José encouraged institutions to make diversity, equity, and inclusion a visible priority. “Institutions need to visibly support DEI initiatives in terms of money, staff, and faculty support. They need to prioritize hiring individuals from minority groups – putting out their feelers just a little further and a little deeper. If it’s a priority, we should see those changes happen.”

Photo Provided by José Guillén

José called on organizations to facilitate both institutional and individual conversations surrounding ongoing DEI work. “Ongoing conversations, followed by mechanisms that are being put in place and then monitored to see if they’re making a difference, are vital.” he stated. “Then, there should be constant chatter about how cool it is to be ourselves. We should support each other in our differences. For me, diversity means celebrating my Hispanic heritage but not stopping there. We should celebrate that there are many different types of people from all walks of life, and that we all get to work together and share our experiences and help support our patients that way.”

José offered impactful advice for individuals facing environments that do not provide the experience of inclusivity. “There are entrenched systems,” he admitted. “It’s important for people to blaze their path. If you don’t like the status quo, you can be part of creating a new system.”

José urged programs to welcome students as individuals, celebrating their unique beliefs, personalities, and cultures. “We need to move away from seeing people as a great fit and more towards the idea of being a great addition,” he said. “I’m less about the melting pot and more about the stew. I want all those components to be part of a whole, differences and all, as opposed to everything needing to be alike, because then we lose a lot of our strength.”