Sharon Luke Reflects on Her Time at ARC-PA

Here’s what she had to say, as told to Steven Lane, PAEA’s senior communications director.

What has been the most enjoyable aspect of your new role?

The thing I have most fun with is the workshops. The ARC-PA sponsors the Accreditation and You summer workshop and the Provisional Conference, which are conferences for institution officials interested in starting new programs. I also participate in the PD 101 Workshop offered by PAEA. I like to get to interact with faculty and have conversations with them. I get to put names with faces. Often, I’ll have faculty members who want to pull me aside and tell me what’s really going on at their programs, and ask how that situation fits with the Accreditation Standards. This really helps me better understand some of the concerns out there. I can help determine what standards are causing problems and understand the whole scope of how people see the Standards.

What have you learned about yourself as a leader?

This answer came to me instantly … I am more patient than I believed I could be. I have to listen a lot more than I speak. I have to try to assimilate what folks are really saying. When you consider that I am also a PA and used to trying to get results and answers right away, I am challenged to listen and contemplate and think on a different level.

How do you keep yourself centered and grounded with all the demands on your time and energy?

One thing is constant – my spirituality. I have strong faith in God and I pray every night and day — more on some days! I study scripture, which gives me guidance on what directions I need to take. And I still have strong ties with my family members. I have been uprooted from the main group now that I have moved to Atlanta to do this job, but our devotion to each other is still very strong. They are very mindful of the large job I have and the amount of responsibility I have. They keep me grounded by keeping me connected with what’s going on at home.

Thinking about PA education, what are you most optimistic about?

There are so many unknowns right now. Which way are we headed? But I am optimistic about PA faculty. The faculty are in the trenches, so I’m looking forward to what innovations they come up with. A lot of those innovations are likely to focus on methods of education. We have seen a lot of creativity from PA faculty, but I know there is more innovation to come – and I’m looking forward to seeing it.

What keeps you up at night?

Literally, almost nothing — after the busy days I have, I sleep very well! But what concerns me is the number of new programs being headed by inexperienced program directors. In the last few accreditation meetings, when we’ve had probations or adverse actions, those programs primarily have had program directors who were in the job one year or less or were new to PA education. It makes us wonder about the support that is provided in those institutions for the new program leaders.

What trends in medicine do you think will be most important for PA education and accreditation to adapt to?

I don’t know – honestly. The profession is in a transitional phase; I don’t know where we are going. There are still so many questions that need answers. Accreditation kind of follows the profession in some ways. We are not the trendsetters. We watch the profession and see what direction the profession is going. Quality control will always be something accreditation groups need to make decisions about. We listen to what our physician counterparts and our colleagues in other organizations say. There are still more questions than answers.

What trends in education do you think will be most important for PA education and accreditation to adapt to?

None specifically. There are things coming out of ASPA [the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors] and the Department of Education about accreditation adaptations and proposals, but for now, there is no real direct connection between those issues and PA education.

PAEA’s accreditation report centers on the themes of quality and innovation. How do you define quality from an accreditation perspective?

Some time ago, my predecessor summarized some of these in PA programs that have been successfully accredited. I think those are still appropriate. Those programs are very familiar with the Standards and they know what they mean. They have appropriate resources and experienced faculty. They have minimal turnover and longevity of the faculty team. They have visible, strong support from the institution. They have support in the medical community, which helps with availability of clinical sites. Some programs have really been innovative about ways to get clinical sites. Their leadership is able to think proactively. Successful programs understand that program self-assessment is not a “one and done; ARC-PA came and we did it” — they’re always thinking about the next assessment and keeping up with changes in their programs.

What are some of these innovative ways to access clinical sites?

It depends where they are. Some programs that are limited in their regions have gone to other states and made connections where few PA programs exist. We’ve also seen programs provide housing for students so they can stay in remote areas like Wyoming or Hawaii. They are buying property to house students. We have also seen programs provide incentives to preceptors if they are not getting money. Preceptors enjoy using school libraries or getting access to medical journals.

How can ARC-PA and PAEA best work together to improve the quality of PA program graduates?

The exact details remain to be seen, but in general I think through continued collaborative work. We have not had a whole lot of collaborative agendas, so we are just starting out with that. We still have to determine what is needed and how we can best work together while maintaining our respective unique roles and responsibilities.

How do you think programs should view citations generally? What is their purpose and what opportunities do they present?

Citations should be viewed as indicators of noncompliance with standards. Their purpose is to tell programs and institutions where they may be falling short in education policy or self-assessment endeavors. Citations provide opportunities for programs to review and revise and improve themselves. I’ve seen programs on probation really take heed and take the information to their institutions to say, “Here is where we need resources and physical space and faculty, and what we need to improve.” Citations are just a notice that something is not as good as it could be or should be.

I inherited a program in trouble, so I’ve been on the other side of the table; I knew what probation was about. I was able to go to the institution and say, “Here’s what needs to be fixed.” The whole program greatly improved, our daily operations got better. I have also seen this many times on the accreditation side — when programs heed the call of what citations are getting at, they experience great improvement. I understand the pain and feelings of inadequacy, but I also know that probation is not the worst thing — it’s an opportunity for a program to revitalize and do a much better job.

This summer you attended a somewhat historic meeting with PAEA’s leadership and ARC-PA’s executive committee. What were some of the most important themes that came out of that meeting?

For me the most important thing was that more effective and open communication is needed between our organizations. Communications will be key to understanding our respective and collaborative roles in the profession. We need to understand each other a little more before we can take any large-scale progressive actions. I remember saying at that meeting that we are presuming too much about what we believe the other organization wants or believes. I believe that additional meetings will happen in the future, and will facilitate our future collaborative potential.

You have signaled that you want accreditation practices and outcomes to evolve. What are a couple of the highlights of your vision for accreditation moving forward?

We would like to have standards for best practice for PAs and quality indicators for PA education. We think we do that now, but as things change we want to make sure that the revision of the Standards make sense. We want to maintain the quality that the commission believes is necessary for the PA profession.

On this 50th anniversary of the profession, any thoughts on what the profession might look like in 2067?

I haven’t a clue! Obviously, technology will play a major role. We have evolved quite a bit from our origins. Maybe we will see more worldwide programs and PA practice.

What is one thing people don’t know about you?

I’m kind of an open book, so I don’t really know. I used to teach cake decorating in a craft store in Ohio before I went into PA education.

Any final thoughts?

We’ve always said that the majority of PA programs do an excellent job. The accreditation process can seem harsh for programs that are struggling. But the end goal is that all programs will provide quality medical education to students. The ARC-PA monitors to ensure that happens, and that is how the Commission works to protect the public and students.