New Faces and New Ways of Thinking Permeate This Year’s Education Forum

Perhaps it was the engaging education sessions, or possibly the exceptional speakers, or maybe being in the heart of Disneyland — or more likely, a combination of all three. But whatever it was, attendees at this year’s Education Forum in California clearly seemed eager to believe — in the power (and magic) of positive thinking, of connecting, and of the ability to shape the future of PA education.

The “Our Future Starts Now” theme ran through all of the Forum sessions, encouraging the 900 attendees to think “outside the box” and grab hold of their future and make it everything they envision it can be. Nearly a quarter of attendees were first-timers, bringing new energy and fresh ideas to an already pumped-up audience.

PAEA President Lisa Mustone Alexander captured this spirit in her president’s address. “Embracing our future is not only about understanding our future,” said Alexander. “It’s about creating that future. It’s about doing things differently now so that the world will look different in 10 or 20 years. It’s about innovation.”

Both seasoned and new Forum-goers were undoubtedly impressed with how innovative and inspiring this year’s keynote speakers were. Displaying raw emotion, unwavering perseverance, and off-the-charts positive attitudes, they challenged Forum attendees to take a giant step outside of their comfort zones — to pursue the impossible, to own the moment, and to never ever give up on their dreams.

Simon Bailey. Image: PAEA/Daniel Lennox

Finding Your Inner Brilliance

Right out of the gate, keynote speaker and former Disney executive Simon Bailey set the tone of the Forum on Thursday morning by asking audience members to “shift your thinking.” He proceeded to explain how this is critical for making your dreams come true. He recalled when he first started working for Disney that the president of Disney said to him: “You need to know who you are, and why you’re here.” That simple statement really resonated with Bailey, and he took it to heart.

That also might have been the moment when he realized why it took Disney two years and 10 interviews to hire him — because Disney wasn’t just hiring him to do a job; it was hiring him to be an extension of the company and make connections with their visitors. “Disney was inviting me to ‘own the moment,’” said Bailey. “And that’s when I realized that customer service isn’t just a department; it’s a mission.” He then invited the audience to view their job as a mission, noting how powerful and important the role of a PA (and those who educate our PAs) is in our current health care system. He emphasized that, no matter what our position, we need to “live the message that we’re delivering.”

Mick Ebeling.
Image: PAEA/Daniel Lennox

The Fallacy of Impossible

Our Friday speaker, self-described “film and TV producer by trade, an optimist by nature” Mick Ebeling was all about making things happen. That’s probably why his foundation is called Not Impossible. When he hears about a problem that appears to have no solution, that’s when he springs into action. He regularly invites a bunch of experts to his house to brainstorm and solve complex problems to help make people’s lives better.

After learning about an artist who suffered from ALS, a progressive neurological disease, he invented the “eyewriter,” a device to help paralyzed people “write” with their eyes, so that this artist could draw again.

If you tell Ebeling that something can’t be done, his response is: “Name anything that’s possible today that wasn’t ‘impossible’ at one point.” He also explained how when something is nudged into the realm of possible, it then gives everyone permission to attempt the “impossible.” He encouraged audience members to think beyond their preset self-imposed limits and go out and attempt the “impossible.”

John O’Leary.
Image: PAEA/Daniel Lennox

The Power of One

“In the classroom of life, it sometimes gets hard.” These words — a profound understatement in this case — are those of burn survivor John O’Leary. The final keynote speaker, O’Leary delivered arguably the most powerful message of the Forum. He challenged the audience to “live inspired.” Because that is what he decided to do after managing to survive a horrific accident at the age of 9 that left him with third-degree burns over 90 percent of his body and clinging to life in a hospital bed.

He credits a few key people who refused to give up on him and who insisted that he was going to pull through — and not just to survive, but to live a life of purpose. One of those people was Roy, one of the nurses who took care of him in the hospital. Every day, Roy would say (over and over) to the young O’Leary, who at that point couldn’t speak or move, “Boy, you’re going to walk again.” And he would always follow it with the most important part: “And I’ll walk with you.” O’Leary recounted just how important those five words were to him and the difference they made in his recovery.

He then told the auditorium full of PA educators: “This is what you need to impart to your students. That you’ll walk with them on their journey.” And he went on to underscore the importance of making meaningful connections with others — and the profound power that those connections can have.

Spotlight on the Future

While emphasizing the importance of seizing opportunities for innovation in her President’s address, Lisa Mustone Alexander also acknowledged that it takes courage, resources, time, and money to bring ideas forward — not a simple feat. She then introduced four inspiring educators — your colleagues — who have had the courage to be innovators at their own programs, to talk about what they’ve done. We wanted to share a few of their thoughts.

PA educators on stage

From left to right: PAEA President Lisa Mustone Alexander and PA educators Elias Villarreal, Carolyn Bradley Guidry, Cody Sasek, and Jackie Barnett.

Takeaways from PA Educators

About diversity: Carolyn Bradley Guidry – “Students can’t be what they can’t see.”

About women in the profession: Jackie Barnett – “With 68 percent of faculty and 62 percent of program directors being women, their success is vital to the success of our profession.”

About technology: Elias Villareal – “Open your mind to technology. You won’t break it, and more importantly, it won’t break you.”

About innovation: Cody Sasek – “Innovation takes — not genius — but dogged persistence.”