PAEA Reaffirms Its Commitment to Anti-Racism

This Thursday, May 25, will mark the third anniversary of the death of George Floyd Jr. 

Floyd was a Black man who was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest made after a store clerk suspected Floyd may have used a counterfeit $20, on May 25, 2020.

Floyd’s death, captured on video that showed him pleading for his life and telling police, “I can’t breathe,” shocked many Americans. It resulted in a wave of activism calling for an end to bias in policing which has caused a disproportionate number of deaths for underrepresented members of the community, especially Black men.

While Floyd’s death became a cause for many people who were galvanized to demand equal treatment in a society that has far too often fallen short of that promise, we don’t want to forget the man known as “Big Floyd,” was not just a symbol but also a human being.

Floyd was a star athlete as a high school student and a musical artist. His obituary described him as a “devoted son, brother, father, and friend to many.”

For this solemn remembrance, PAEA, its board of directors, staff, and members want to publicly state they are committed to continuing efforts to oppose racism in any form.

Emma Sellers, PAEA’s Chief EDI Officer, reflected on how Floyd’s death affected the United States and PAEA.

“Seeing the murder of George Floyd lifted a bandage on one of the largest and slowest healing wounds in this county. Racism was upfront and center stage. This event and the displays of activism that followed, disallowed for many the privilege to turn and look the other way. Racism and injustice had to be confronted,” she said.

For many, Floyd’s death was deeply personal, Sellers added.

“As individuals, many of us felt sad. We felt anger. We felt rage. How could this happen and why is this happening again to another Black man, a father, a son,” she said.

While all these injustices which Floyd’s death crystalized for many are not easily solved, Sellers said there are many in the health care space who are doing what they can to face these issues directly and respond positively.

“As an organization, PAEA has committed to doing the work necessary to create a PA educational environment that minimizes bias for our students, staff, and faculty, and leads through an equity and justice lens. By living out our values and partnering with programs, we can work towards a profession that recognizes and challenges bias at every level. It is no longer enough to not be racist, we must all become anti-racist in our policies and practices within our organization and programs,” she said.

A recent example of our commitment is our agreement to join with other members of the Federation of Associations of Schools of the Health Professions in issuing a consensus statement declaring the underrepresentation of men of color in the health professions is a crisis.

PAEA’s Strategic Plan makes it clear the Association is unambiguous in where it stands on these issues. JEDI, or Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, are listed among our core values. “Eliminate systemic racism and bias in PA education,” is listed as one of our goals.

PAEA has tried to live those values as more than words on a page. In the Fall of 2022, PAEA hosted two Anti-Racism Town Halls, the first dedicated to PA students, and the second to PA faculty and staff. These town halls provided a platform and space for students, faculty, and staff to share their feelings and experiences honestly. To that end, the town halls were not recorded, and all data collected was anonymized, but the information will help shape the vision for how PAEA advances the conversation around efforts to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion in PA education and the workforce.

Member programs are doing their own work in this sphere. The PA program at the Oregon Health & Science University has put into place a multi-pronged effort to increase diversity among students and staff.

“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,” said a recent story about OHSU.

At Charles Drew University in California, the EDGE (Empowering Diversity, Growth, and Excellence) Physician Assistant Program recruits Black men who are on the precipice of acceptance into a PA program but just need that extra boost to get in. EDGE provides educational resources such as mentoring, mock interviews, CASPA application reviews, and more. The founders of EDGE were inspired by research that demonstrated the great disparity within the PA profession in terms of race and ethnicity, particularly Black men. The EDGE program was designed to provide resources that will bring more Black men into the educational programs that train students to enter the health care professions and provide the tools for those students to successfully complete their education, graduate, and serve their communities.

PAEA believes that greater representation in the vital field of health care, as well as in areas like law enforcement, politics, education, and other areas, is an important step toward a society which can provide justice for all.  

See how PA programs cross the country are advancing EDI

EDI in Action Series