Stanford PA Students Embrace Diversity and Inclusion

Two years ago, the Stanford University MSPA Diversity Affinity Group (SUDAG) was created to encourage networking and social engagement of Stanford MSPA students across all three cohorts. The primary purpose of the group was to promote the academic and social advancement of students of color and underrepresented minorities from low-resourced communities in both the MSPA program and within the profession. 

Stanford’s Director of Pre-Clerkship Education Nicole Burwell, PhD, MSHS, PA-C, who serves as advisor to the SUDAG, outlines the group’s work.

How did the idea for the SUDAG come up, and what was the process for getting it off the ground?
The founding members (Shanice Watts, PA-S3, Allison Leibold, PA-S3, Yadira Castaneda, PA-S3, Alex Noonan, PA-S2, Katherine Vera, PA-S2, and Morgan McMahon, PA-S3) met with me and expressed an interest in taking a more active role to invigorate recruitment and retention efforts of underrepresented groups and achieve more diverse representation across our campus. 

That’s how the idea of the group first came up — as a way to provide a safe space for students to engage in timely and meaningful discussions around the critical issues affecting PA students and PAs of color: mentorship from an interprofessional group of health care providers, community outreach, engagement with pre-health professions students, and creating a sense of community. 

What are some of the “wins” for this group or things they’ve accomplished so far?
The group has been instrumental in building the framework for a multi-tiered approach to increase diversity within the program. 

Creating a Pipeline 
For the past two years, efforts include pre-PA workshops for the Stanford University Minority Medical Alliance (SUMMA) conference to help bring awareness about the PA profession to students of color. With hundreds of students attending the SUMMA conference, the workshops are uniquely designed to help prepare underrepresented minority students who are interested in a career in the health professions. The goal is to help increase awareness of the profession and thereby increase diversity in medicine.

To help recruit a more diverse pool of applicants, a team of MSPA students organized “diversity mixers” for minority applicants and those from diverse backgrounds during the interview weekends as well as welcome receptions during new student orientation.

Community Outreach 
We are also working to increase the diversity of future cohorts through community outreach and by partnering with local high schools. Students delivered a presentation and interactive workshop to a local high school with a large percentage of underrepresented students. Students are already planning how they can continue these efforts virtually. 

Stanford MSPA students are required to complete a capstone project in one of the following leadership tracks of interest: medical education, clinical research, community health, health services and policy research, or hospital administration. The SUDAG allows for collective support and research collaboration on scholarly projects that will help raise awareness and reduce health disparities. As we speak, students are evaluating new data and gaining hands-on experience with projects relating to curricular development in social determinants of health, psychosocial adversity as a social determinant of health, health literacy in special African populations, creating a “pipeline to practice” for pre-PA students, and identifying barriers to creating a diverse workforce.

Social Support and Mentoring 
We encourage partnering as a “big sister” or “big brother” to an incoming MSPA student. When students are admitted to the program they are paired with a big sister or brother currently in the program. In creating big/little pairings for incoming students, the intent is to match students from underrepresented minority groups, or low-income or first-generation students with a mentor from a similar background. 

“The big/little pairings have been crucial to my success at Stanford,” said group member Shanice Watts. “As a Black woman, my pairing has made me feel included in a space that could have easily made me feel like I didn’t belong. My ‘little’ and I would text each other weekly, have lunch, and send each other encouraging words before our exams, which has made all the difference. As part of the diversity affinity group, I am looking forward to creating the same supportive environment for URMs from low-resourced communities.”

What types of goals/activities/events/etc. does the group intend to work toward among the cohorts?
In the future, we would like to connect with larger national organizations that are actively geared toward supporting the growing network of underrepresented minorities (URMs) in the health professions, such as the Student National Medical Association and Latino Medical Student Association. These dynamic organizations also support URMs by working collectively to increase diverse representation. We are working to collaborate with Stanford Health Care and Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital on their current strategic plans for diversity, inclusion, equity, and creating a pipeline.  

How do the SUDAG monthly meetings work?
Meetings are open to all students who identify with the mission and purpose of the organization. Monthly meetings entail:  

  1. A safe space for interested students to engage in discussions around the critical issues affecting PA students and PAs of color  
  2. Opportunities to connect with PAs from underrepresented groups
  3. Invited guest speakers – our next meeting will feature the founding members of the National Society of Black PAs
  4. Game nights or movie nights 
  5. Virtual coffee/tea breaks

How will the program support any recommendations from the group to create a more inclusive space?
In addition to financial support for social and networking events, the program has committed to providing our students with the knowledge and skills required to achieve health equity. We are actively working to identify ways in which we can fortify our curriculum with topics that address anti-racism, achieve health equity, and explore the link between health care and social justice. These will be integrated throughout the didactic phase of the program as well as used for identifying community partners in the clerkship year. We are also investing in faculty development across these topics and encouraging the use of instructors who practice cultural humility. 

Do you have any advice for other programs that may want to replicate Stanford’s MSPA Diversity Affinity Group?
The deliberate recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority students and faculty is critical. It is vital for ensuring a workforce that is an accurate reflection of the population it serves. Now, more than ever, it is necessary to create opportunities for social support, mentoring, research collaboration, and recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups. We encourage other programs that share a common interest in promoting diversity to provide students with funding and other resources required to establish similar communities and networks for inclusion.