Oregon Health and Science University’s PA Program Develops Plan to Enhance EDI Recruitment

PAEA is eager to highlight Oregon Health & Science University’s PA program for their efforts to recruit and support a student body of varied backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences to enhance and diversify the PA workforce. Through a conversation with Skylar Stewart-Clark, PhD, MSPAS, PA-C, division head and program director; Erica Hankins Regalo, MA, director of admissions; and Julie Carlson, assistant director of admissions and recruitment, I was able to deep-dive into what makes their unique admissions and recruitment efforts so successful.  

OHSU’s PA program acts intentionally in fostering an equitable, diverse, and inclusive environment. The effort is evident throughout the admissions process, beginning with the anti-racism statement on their homepage.

They make their objectives crystal clear by outlining how they intend to combat racism and inequality through their curriculum, by challenging ways in which they are complicit with systemic racism, and ensuring transparency and accountability every step of the way. By signaling their deep commitment to creating a campus climate that is welcoming to people of all backgrounds from the start, OHSU ensures that it attracts open-minded applicants.  

OHSU’s PA faculty and staff make the effort to do extensive outreach to a wide range of communities through a variety of avenues. One is Project Access, an outreach recruitment program that aims to encourage high school students from underrepresented minoritized groups to consider the PA profession as a career.

Another is a pathway program they are developing with a tribal organization in Interior Alaska to recruit indigenous populations. OHSU further detailed to me how they have begun connecting with pre-health advisors at Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to invite students to virtual information sessions, and how they continue to increase the number of virtual information sessions to reach to those who might not be able to visit their campus. They also expand this reach through participation in PAEA’s annual Diversity Recruitment Virtual Fair.

Current OHSU PA students get involved too, by connecting with middle school and high school students through presentations and career fairs.  

OHSU understands that the work does not stop once they have garnered the interest of potential applicants. They believe that an applicant’s finances should not be a barrier to applying to their program, and thus utilize PAEA’s CASPA Fee Assistance Program. This program allows for applicants who meet certain financial criteria to receive fee waivers.

OHSU has dedicated its own money to this initiative and plans to double the amount of available funds for the 2024 application cycle.  

Before applicants are reviewed, OHSU’s admissions staff undergoes unconscious bias training to understand and manage hidden biases that can impact decision making in the admissions process. Included in OHSU’s policies is the mandate that admissions committees also must include trained faculty observers and members with diverse and/or underrepresented backgrounds or experiences.

To further mitigate bias, selection committee members are not given identifying information about the applicants. However, to ensure they are fulfilling their mission, the committee is provided a dashboard that monitors for good representation.  

OHSU’s definition of diversity includes applicants who are underrepresented in medicine (URiM), first generation, come from a disadvantaged background, are rural according to the State Operations Manual definition, or have veteran status. Preference is given to applicants who fall within these parameters.

Within their applications, applicants are asked EDI-focused essay questions, and if they proceed to the interview stage, they are further engaged in conversations centered on this topic. Red flags can be assigned to applicants who do not share the focus of OHSU’s mission.   

In addition to all of their ongoing efforts, OHSU’s admissions team is currently working on strategies to recruit an even more diverse applicant pool in alignment with their mission. They understand that this work never ends and credit their success to the commitment of OHSU’s leadership to EDI efforts.  

PAEA’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Team is excited to continue EDI in Action. Every month we will identify a PA program that is seeing success in anti-racist and inclusive programming. While many programs are eager to support their underrepresented in medicine (URiM) students, faculty, and staff, some are unsure what to do. PAEA’s DEI Toolkit is one tool that programs can use to initiate or increase programming. We hope these examples serve as inspiration and a model that other programs can follow.