New PAEA Staffer Won PAEA Award in 2020

Susan Eckert, a new manager of member engagement at PAEA, is looking forward to helping the staff who work at PA programs because she was one of them herself. Eckert is also a past recipient of a PAEA Award for Administrative Support.

“I feel like this position is what I’ve been working my whole career to get to,” she said.

Susan Eckert

Eckert praised her co-workers, beyond the member engagement team, as kind and welcoming. Because she is taking on a new position at PAEA, Eckert’s role is still developing and said, “As far as I’m concerned, the sky’s the limit.”

From managing membership accounts and understanding the needs, wants, and preferences of current and prospective PAEA members, Susan will be working on enhancing relationships, fostering engagement, and creating positive impact. To that end, one of her new responsibilities will be helping educate members so they get the most value out of their membership through PAEA benefits, products, and services, such as the Pi Alpha Honor Society. Eckert said she believes it is important to be able to recognize the top students in a way that may help them stand out when they are seeking to build their careers. 

Pi Alpha may be one of Eckert’s most visible roles where members may see her influence initially, but she added that she’s looking forward to attending the Education Forum in October and getting to meet more PAEA members in person.

“I want to talk to members about everything we have to offer through our programs so we can help them take advantage of what we’ve created to serve PA educators,” she said.

Eckert said she is also making tentative plans to visit programs that are within driving range for her from her home so she can “start building those relationships.” She said she wants to enhance the connection to every program she can reach.

“I want to get in front of them and learn more about each school, how they’re unique, and how PAEA can help them with their PA school journey, whether they’re just beginning, or they’ve been established for 25 years, we have something that can help them improve,” she said.

Eckert first became involved with healthcare when she joined Physicians East, a large, multi-specialty practice in Greenville, North Carolina, as a credentialing specialist. She went to work for East Carolina University in 2015 and joined their PA program as a Student Services Specialist, filling the roles of office manager and clinical coordinator.

Eckert worked with the students in their clinical year, as they were leaving the campus, so that made it difficult to make good connections and relationships sometimes, but she was able to interact with them as they came back to the school and shared their experiences, both good and bad.

“I loved being with the students and watching those ‘a-ha’ moments they had and sharing unique cases they had during their clinical rotations,” she said.

Eckert enjoyed watching students putting together their didactic education with their clinical experiences. 

She believes in the PA profession so much that she mentioned that if she could go back in time, knowing what she knows now, she would have become a PA herself.

While Eckert said she loved her time at ECU, she was a staff member at her program who wasn’t a PA, and she reached the limits of where she could advance.

“I completed my master’s degree, and I was ready to take my career to the next step,” she said.

Eventually, she moved on to a non-profit Medicaid care organization as a program coordinator in the training department. Eckert said she enjoyed the work but a friend and former colleague from ECU told her about the position at PAEA and encouraged her to apply.

Eckert was familiar with PAEA because of her time at ECU and from winning a PAEA award herself.

“I got a great surprise that my faculty had nominated me. I did not know that they had done that. It was a complete surprise because my husband and I were on vacation  when I got a voice mail message from someone at PAEA. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, why are they calling me?” she said.

When she found out she had won a PAEA Award, she was “speechless, which believe me, doesn’t come very often,” she said with a laugh.

“I was just incredibly humbled that the faculty had taken time out of their busy schedules just to submit the nomination,” she said.

The good news for Eckert was that she had won the award. The complication was that Forum was virtual in 2020 so she couldn’t attend in person. At PAEA’s request, Eckert filmed an acceptance video that she submitted to be shared instead for the event.

“I really learned how much I meant to the faculty and my program. I had never won a national award before. It was huge. It still is. I still take a lot of pride in that,” she said.

As a former staff member at a PA program, Eckert said she hopes to bring to her new position the awareness of what it’s like to be on the other side.

For instance, Eckert said she had experience with working within the finance approval structure at an educational institution to get expenses approved, searching for clinical sites to take students, finding the best way to work with a large pool of applicants to find those few who were the best fit for a particular program, and scheduling and administering exams.

“There’s a lot of aspects of the day-to-day tasks that I can relate with and identify where PAEA has tools and services available to help. I want to have an open communication of what programs need to help them develop further,” she said.

Coming back to PA education through her new position at PAEA, Eckert said she was inspired to return to the field by hard-working students and faculty. She said she believes many of the students have the intelligence, drive, and dedication to be successful in any field of healthcare and understands why some chose to become PAs, but she was concerned they might not get the recognition they deserve.

“PAs have a lot of requirements put on them to keep up to date. They have a lot of qualifications and training that the public may not understand. Anything I can do to support their education, so that we can have better healthcare providers out there, I think is very important,” she said.

When Eckert is not helping PAEA members, she lives on a working farm with her husband in Eastern North Carolina where they have chickens, goats, agriculture and are continuing to add to the farm. She is also a certified beekeeper and manages several beehives. The couple is active in advocating for and rescuing Great Danes.