Research Fellows Prepare for a Busy Year Ahead

The 2019–2020 AAPA-PAEA Research Fellows, Kari Bernard, MS, PA-C, of the Anchorage campus of the University of Washington MEDEX program, and Vanessa Bester, EdD, MPAS, PA-C, of Augsburg University, recently traveled to PAEA’s headquarters for four days of learning and discussion.

The fellows were joined by PAEA Research Mission Advancement Commission Chair Rick Dehn, MPA, PA-C; PAEA Director at Large Kevin Schuer, DrPH, PA-C; and AAPA and PAEA research staff for the third annual January AAPA-PAEA Research Fellowship Seminar. The jointly sponsored fellowship is designed to foster fellows’ research skills and to create valuable connections with leaders and experts in the fields of health, education, and workforce research and policy.

The fellows were first welcomed by PAEA’s then-interim CEO Sara Fletcher, PhD, who gave a comprehensive overview of the Association’s goals and its support for the fellowship. PAEA’s Chief Policy and Research Officer Dave Keahey, MSPH, PA-C, followed Fletcher with a presentation on research leadership. Drawing on his experience as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Fellow, he detailed the critical relationship between research, policy, and leadership. Daniel Pace, AAPA vice president for education and research and chief strategy officer, also addressed the group providing an overview of AAPA’s key strategic aims and how research plays a critical role in understanding the PA profession and its contributions to the nation’s health.

Over the next few days, the fellows connected with researchers and decision-makers from a coterie of high-impact organizations. The first day began with a conversation with Andrew Bazemore, MD, MPH, senior vice president of research and policy at the American Board of Family Medicine, who spoke about his pathway to research leadership and the research direction of his organization.

Afterward, the group visited the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), where they were given an overview of some of its key focus areas with J. Michael McGinnis, MD, MA, MPAA; NAM’s Leonard D. Schaeffer, executive officer; and Gregg Margolis, PhD, director of health policy fellowships and leadership programs. Program directors from NAM’s Health and Medicine Division shared information about their ongoing projects and Vital Directions for Health and Healthcare initiatives. Tami Ritsema, PhD, MPH, MMS, PA-C, of George Washington University, closed the day with a workshop designed to help fellows set their research agendas.

The next day, the fellows were welcomed by research staff at the Robert Graham Center, the research and policy arm of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Led by Director Jack Westfall, MD, MPH, the group addressed the intersection between PA education and the primary care workforce. Recognizing the fellows’ drive, Westfall invited them to submit abstracts to the North American Primary Care Research Group annual conference, which recognizes the work of primary care researchers.

The fellows also met with Michelle Proser, PhD, director of research at the National Association of Community Health Centers, who spoke about the importance of PAs at community health centers and presented workforce data collected by her organization. Representatives from the GWU Health Workforce Institute, including Clese Erikson, MPA; Eric Luo, PhD, MPSA; and Candice Chen, MD, MPH, gave an overview of the institute’s current HRSA-funded research projects and led an animated conversation about their recent work with PAEA on PA applicants’ touchpoints with community colleges. The institute even reached out to one of the fellows for ideas on how to directly collaborate in her home state of Alaska. Finally, the fellows were asked to weigh in on others’ research in a peer review workshop led by editors of Academic Medicine.

On the final day of the seminar, the Fellows dove headfirst into a data discussion with members of the Association of American Medical College’s Workforce Studies Center. The fellows then put their reviewer hats back on as Dehn led them through a grant review exercise. He also stayed on for a panel discussion of pathways to PA research leadership, for which he was joined by Bob McNellis, MPH, PA, senior advisor for primary care at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; Theresa Hegmann, MPAS, PA-C, clinical professor at the University of Iowa PA program; Lucy Kibe, DrPH, MS, MHS, PA-C, program director at the Charles R. Drew University PA program; and Perri Morgan, PhD, PA-C, professor of family medicine and community health at the Duke University PA program. This who’s-who of PA researchers shared their unique professional pathways that led them to their current positions as leaders in PA and health professions research. Panelists offered their perspectives on the importance of forming collaborations and take a leading role in health professions research, accentuating the fellowship’s goal of creating a culture of leadership among PA researchers. The fellows and panelists also spoke of possible collaborations in current and future research. Finally, Audrey Peek, MPA, EdD, of the American Institutes of Research, gave a crash course on the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

Our newest cohort of research fellows – representing the future of PA research – left DC with long lists of valuable contacts and new research ideas. They will gather again in person at the 2020 AAPA Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, and then during a summer seminar at the AAPA headquarters before presenting their interim research findings at the 2020 PAEA Education Forum this October.

The PAEA and AAPA research teams would like to extend our sincere gratitude to all the individuals and groups that met with us throughout the week, supporting the goals and research endeavors of the fellows. We would also like to express our appreciation to the PAEA and AAPA Boards of Directors for their continuing investments in PA research — and the fellowship, in particular — as this opportunity has the ability to supercharge a PA researcher’s career.

If you are interested in joining this elite group of fellows, keep an eye out for the 2020-2021 application cycle, which will open in the spring. More information can be found on our website or by emailing