Lessons Learned — JPAE Style

Feature articles in the Journal of Physician Assistant Education allow an author to focus on a special area such as Cultural Perspectives or Exploring Medicine Through the Arts. Lessons Learned is a feature that was added to the journal two years ago to stimulate PA educators to offer their first-person reflective narratives relating to a specific success — or failure — that the author has experienced. It is limited to 2,500 words similar to the other features in the journal.

The original intent of this feature was to share with fellow PA educators a valuable insight gained through experiential learning. Articles for this feature are not intended to be a “how to” article, but rather a reflective sharing of knowledge that has been gained through first-hand experience or even trial and error.

A Lessons Learned feature article should be written in the first-person narrative, describing knowledge that has been gained about a process over time. Ideally, your content describes an innovation or new educational idea that is applicable to a wide audience of PA programs. The lesson learned should stimulate PA educator thinking. Conclusions should be supported by the narrative, and references should be applicable.

But why focus on failure? And in front of all your PA educator friends? Because reviewing lessons learned with your didactic or clinical team is an important part of the development process when planning and executing a new educational idea. It is through these lessons learned that a project can be vastly improved. These post-mortems, or post-improvement discussions, can lead to shared lessons and improved performance of a successful team. In fact, much more can be learned from our failures than from our successes. Failures can say a lot about process and communication, and when those failures are analyzed, an incredible amount can be gleaned from the process. Writing about a failure or lesson learned — as well as opportunities for improvement — and sharing it with your greater PA educator colleagues is a logical and much appreciated next step.

A commonly asked question is, “How do I document or write up a lesson learned? Where do I begin?” Start with a clear objective in mind, then proceed to a logical, clear, and concise write up of the lesson. Try for good flow and appropriate headings. The Lessons Learned article, “Negotiating on Behalf of Your Program,” by Mary Warner in the June 2017 issue of JPAE provides a good example of what we are looking for.

Taking the insights that come out of your post-improvement discussions and applying them to a lesson learned feature for JPAE is the perfect way to share your hard-earned failures, or successes, with your fellow PA faculty. And that helps all of us become better educators!