Meet PAEA’s New President, Known for Her “Work Hard, Play Hard” Attitude

At PAEA’s Board of Directors first 2015 in-person meeting last week, Stephane VanderMeulen, MPAS, PA-C, stepped into her new role as president. Many of you may already know the facts about VanderMeulen — she’s an assistant professor and the Director of Didactic Education at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). She’s also finishing up her dissertation to earn a PhD in gerontology from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. But we wanted to delve a little deeper, so we sat down with her to get a sense of what the next year under her leadership might bring.

PAEA: When you first joined the PAEA Board of Directors as a director at large, did you have your sights set on the presidency or was that an interest that developed later on?

Stephane VanderMeulen: Although I was really new to PA education and relatively new to the Association, I think it was probably an ultimate goal for me. I started full-time in PA education in 2005, in 2007 I was on my first committee, and I started Board service in 2010. I knew that I had a big learning curve ahead of me to get to the point where I was able to take a leadership position on the Board, but I think it was in the back of my mind.

“With five years of board service as preparation, Stephane understands the strategic plans of the organization and knows how to work with the board and staff to achieve our goals. The board, councils, and staff will all work hard under her leadership, but we will have fun along the way.” — William Kohlhepp, DHSc, PA-C, Treasurer

PAEA: With the upcoming office move to Washington, D.C., and the recent hiring of a lobbying firm, 2015 is poised to be action-packed for PAEA. As president, what are you most excited about?

SV: I think that I’m most excited about the opportunities that these two initiatives afford the profession and the Association. The AAMC move will open up many collaborative opportunities for us by building relationships that we might not have had otherwise. It also geographically puts us at the epicenter of the action on Capitol Hill, and our work with [the lobbying firm] Polsinelli can really contribute to that relationship-building. It jump-starts our ability to make some important strides through connecting us to difference-makers in Washington in a way that we just weren’t able to do before.

PAEA: Over the next year, what is the biggest challenge or decision you anticipate the Association will face?

SV: I think our biggest issue that we’re facing — which is actually a good problem to have — is that there are so many opportunities opening up to us that it sometimes makes it difficult to focus our priorities. It’s a new problem for us, and we’re really working to make the best decisions we can on behalf of our members.

PAEA: You’re going on your sixth year as a member of the Board of Directors. What have you learned from observing previous PAEA presidents that will help you in your new role?

SV: Certainly each president has had their own individual style of leadership, and because I’ve served five years, I’ve been able to observe pieces of each one of those leadership styles that I think has helped me to shape my own. I have had some incredible mentors on this Board and I have learned so much from each of them.

In my opinion, one of the most important parts of being the president of the Board or the leader of a group is understanding that you’re not in charge, you’re not the boss — you’re truly just facilitating the work of the group. For me it’s not a hierarchal position; it just means that I’ve taken on a different role within the team.

PAEA: Everyone loves a good inspirational quote; is there one that motivates you?

SV:“We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own,” which was said by the author Ben Sweetland. I keep that on my bulletin board at work, and I think it’s really true. As an educator, you’re teaching others and helping them grow, but I don’t think you can do that without making yourself better, too.  I’ve learned as much from my students as they’ve learned from me.

“Stephane’s tenure with PAEA has prepared her to lead us through this exciting next chapter for the Association. Her ability to synthesize information and get to the heart of complex issues will be a valuable skill as the board takes on the next steps of our collaboration with AAMC and increased advocacy efforts.” — Karen Hills, MS, PA-C, Immediate Past President

PAEA: What’s one thing about you that might surprise people?

SV: I’m a voracious hockey fan. One of my sons plays hockey — last year alone we put 6,500 miles on our car just for travel hockey — and my other son rides horses competitively. Between my husband and me, we’re always either at the rink or the stables.

PAEA: Anything else you’d like to add?

SV: Just general excitement and enthusiasm for what’s to come for the Association because I think we’re on the brink of so much opportunity. The PA profession is poised to really set itself apart in ways that it hasn’t been able to before. I think we’re heading to great places; it’s just a matter of holding on for the ride.