PAEA Continues the Conversation on Everyday Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

In June and July 2023, PAEA continued the conversations that started at this year’s Leadership Summit. PAEA’s EDI Team hosted two listening sessions for all PAEA members to discuss how we can achieve true equity, diversity, and inclusion in PA education while managing the barriers and roadblocks in our paths. The discussions, led by experts, centered on everyday equity, diversity, inclusion, and accountability.  

In the first session, Jacqueline Barnett, DHSc, MSHS, PA-C, of Duke University, moderated a panel of Carolyn Bradley-Guidry, DrPH, MPAS, PA-C, of the University of Texas Southwestern; Dadilia Garces Mejia, MD, MSHS of Miami Dade College; and Shani Fleming, MSHS, MPH, PA-C, of the University of Maryland Baltimore, in a conversation focused on the current state of PA education. The panelists used the analogy that the “race house” is “on fire” in PA education, how they are working to put out the fire, and the roadblocks to putting out the fire. 

In the second session, Vanessa Bester, EdD, PA-C of Augsburg University, moderated a panel of Carl A. Frizell, DMSc, MSPAS, PA-C, of Meharry Medical College; Skylar Stewart-Clark, PhD, MSPAS, PA-C, of Oregon Health & Science University; and Marc Doobay, MPAS, PA-C, of the University of Iowa. They elaborated on the differences between an equitable and inequitable environment, how to create an inclusive environment, and how to hold people accountable in an inclusive environment. 

Both panels encouraged attendees to confront uncomfortable truths and put in place practices that center on the most marginalized and underserved of us all.  

Below are three takeaways from the event: 

  •  The “race house” in PA education is burning. 

Many PA programs across the country are adapting to the new realities following the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action in the cases of Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina and Students for Fair Admissions v. Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College. At the state level, many legislatures are considering new restrictions on race-conscious admission and other equity, diversity, and inclusion programs. 

In addition to the new laws and regulations, PA faculty, staff, and students face a toxic environment in which equity, diversity, and inclusion are criticized, scrutinized, and banned across the country. In a recent study, Robert L. Wooten, MS, PA-C, et al., assert that racially and ethnically minoritized PA students need more support against frequent micro- and macroaggressions. The research findings “suggest that social experiences before, during, and after PA training strongly influence PIF (professional identity formation) development in racial/ethnic minoritized PAs.” 

  •  In the wake of the recent SCOTUS decision, PA programs must adapt to the new environment. 

Many programs have had to contend with state restrictions on affirmative action before the SCOTUS decision. Therefore, PA programs must create new strategies and policies to meet ARC-PA Standard A1.11, which requires them to support diversity, equity, and inclusion. Here are some strategies that the panelists mentioned: 

  •  U.S. Census data can help guide student and faculty recruitment goals, especially in public universities and colleges to ensure that their student bodies and faculty reflect the population of their state and region. 
  •  Use Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) indicators to identify applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds and use concepts such as distance traveled in your recruitment strategies. There is a lot of intersectionality in these indicators that can help ensure an inclusive learning environment. 
  •  Building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment requires an adaptive culture that prioritizes accountability and change.  

A toxic environment can be devastating to faculty, staff, and students and breed discomfort, alienation, and mental distress. It is important that PA programs and institutional administrations engage faculty, staff, and students in creating equitable, fair policies that provide appropriate access to what they need to succeed. If minoritized individuals are not supported or are being taken advantage of, it can seed a sense of failure and a lack of safety that hinders their success. 

In response, PA programs need to clearly identify and delineate roles and responsibilities among faculty and staff. Often, the burden is placed on minoritized faculty and staff to volunteer their time. By creating clear boundaries, program directors can help alleviate the extra pressures that they face. These structures and processes will aid in the creation of policies and programs that address students’ concerns as well. For example, when discrimination occurs, there needs to be a process to resolve it. 

PAEA would like to thank the moderators and panelists for their participation and commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. As part of its strategic plan, PAEA will continue to support our members as we seek to eliminate racism in PA education. Now, we encourage Leadership Summit attendees to check in with their accountability partners and for the broader PAEA membership to hold themselves and their colleagues accountable.