PAEA Volunteering: Shani Fleming Shares Her Story

As a PA educator, there are countless ways to spend your time and energy. That’s why, when considering taking on new service roles, it’s important to choose opportunities that are not only professionally beneficial but also energizing, refreshing, and fulfilling.

At PAEA, volunteering offers more than a chance to participate in national service. Here, you will find community, inspiration, and collaboration.

We recently spoke with long-time PAEA volunteer Shani Fleming, MSHS, MPH, PA-C, associate professor and chief equity, diversity, and inclusion officer at the University of Maryland Baltimore PA program, about her experiences through the years. Keep reading to learn why she believes serving at PAEA has been a key protector of burnout throughout her time in PA education.

Why did you decide to become a PAEA volunteer?

As a justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) warrior, I have always advocated for faculty and students of color within PA education. We are still such a small composition of the profession; we must claim our space. I remember walking through a conference and noticing a diversity committee meeting. I walked in, sat on the outskirts, and was excited to hear the topics discussed. I applied. I started on a subcommittee, then moved to a committee member and served as chair of the diversity committee. That’s how I officially got involved. I also had a network of connections and mentors who would offer me different speaking opportunities or leadership opportunities within PAEA to get me engaged. I continue to do the same for others who are new in education, paying it forward.

Have you made meaningful relationships or connections since becoming a volunteer?

All the relationships I’ve made have been invaluable – we have created an amazing bond. I have built excellent connections with colleagues, PAEA staff, board members, executive leaders. My involvement on PAEA committees and professional development workshops has allowed me to meet so many great people, all because I’ve been involved with PAEA. We have group texts and special interest groups where we come together and have conversations about shared experiences. It has indeed been invaluable.

Why is it beneficial to go outside of your program and make national connections?

PA education can at times feel repetitive. When one cohort leaves, another is right behind them. On the one hand, it’s great because you become knowledgeable about your role within PA education and can continue to learn new skills. However, having an opportunity to step outside the program’s walls can provide opportunities for creativity and innovation. I credit participation in PAEA as a critical factor for my longevity in PA education.

How has being a volunteer benefited you personally?

When you participate as a PAEA volunteer, they do an excellent job building in professional development and leadership development throughout the experience. You are not only serving your national professional organization, but they are also serving you, providing skills and tools to bring back to your PA programs.  

PAEA is also great at staying connected. They have been a constant in a life filled with ups and downs, but they continued cultivating the relationship. You truly, truly feel like a part of a family. Having a sense of belonging within PAEA has been helpful.  

Looking back at your experience, what are you most proud of?

The new diversity accreditation standard. To borrow a quote from Hamilton, “I was in the room where it happened.” I have been on PAEA diversity committees as a member and a leader.  Throughout the experience, we prioritized the need for an ARC-PA standard to provide institutional accountability for diversity, equity, and inclusion. We started with educating members, producing scholarship, and advocating with stakeholders. It was an honor to be a part of the process, and seeing it come to fruition is something that makes me incredibly proud. Knowing that I had a part in developing something that will ultimately increase representation within our profession, translating to better patient outcomes is pretty huge.

Looking ahead, what do you hope to see happen in the next ten years around diversity, equity, and inclusion?

We need to fundamentally shift the conversation.  Currently, I hear members discuss diversity through a deficit lens, i.e., lowering standards, strain on faculty, PANCE pass rates. When we do this, we imply that individuals who are not “white” are somehow less than and unable to meet the mark. This is just fundamentally untrue. We need to educate ourselves on the systematic barriers that exist for segments of our population and privileges afforded others. There is value in diversity, and we need to be excited about it. The ARC-PA standard is an excellent first step, but we must critically assess ourselves and the way we view diversity. We must create an environment that is designed for all to succeed. There need to be systematic, strategic, and sustainable changes from recruitment, admissions, curriculum, leadership and faculty development, and commitment to anti-racist policies. Only then will we fundamentally shift the environment in PA education around justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.  

You mentioned that your involvement with PAEA served as a key protector of burnout. Would you share more about that?

As a faculty of color, I have battled isolation. Being a part of PAEA allowed me to build a network, connect with other faculty of color, and engage in dialogue with colleagues about innovative and creative solutions to common PA problems– and creativity makes my work meaningful. My scholarship, leadership development, and teaching have all grown. Volunteering has provided tools for resiliency and work-life balance. All of this helped prevent burnout.

What is your advice to someone who’s looking to become a PAEA volunteer?

I have three suggestions. First, experienced educators reach out to new educators for projects and opportunities.  Often, educators aren’t sure how to get involved, but if somebody comes to you and says, “I think you would be great for this opportunity or project,” it opens the door for future engagement.

Second, for individuals interested in volunteering, align the volunteer opportunity with your passion. We are tasked with many things that are just a part of our job description in our PA programs, but it doesn’t excite us.  So, if you’re going to volunteer, make sure it’s aligned with an area you are passionate about and will benefit your career goals.

Finally, when submitting your application, make sure that your CV highlights the critical areas desired within the volunteer position in which you are applying. Don’t use a boilerplate cover letter, CV, or letter of interest. Make sure you put energy into highlighting how your passion and experience align with the volunteer position.

Are you interested in applying for a volunteer position at PAEA? Check out our open positions and apply now.