Students Lead the Charge for Equity and Inclusion at the University of Colorado PA Program


Katie Ganser, University of Colorado PA Program, AAPA Student Director, Student Academy President

Lauren Norheim, University of Colorado PA Program, Silver Society President

University of Colorado PA (CHA/PA) students, faculty, and staff have always collaborated to ensure our program promotes a welcoming, inclusive environment. The launch of our new curriculum in 2018 provided an opportunity to critically evaluate our program in order to identify and eliminate barriers for under-represented minority applicants. Some examples of our progress include:

  • The program removed the GRE requirement as it failed to predict academic successes within the program and is a financial barrier to many.
  • Students submitted a resolution that was approved at the 2019 Student Academy’s Assembly of Representative meeting to investigate barriers for minority students to the PA profession; results of this study are pending publication.
  • Students started the “Host Program” where current PA students host interviewees to reduce the costs associated with traveling to and from interviews for pre-PA students.
  • CHA/PA’s student society conducted mock interviews and started a PA school shadowing program for pre-PA minority students.
  • The program held a town hall virtual meeting with campus leaders, faculty, staff and students to discuss racism, racial profiling, discrimination, diversity in healthcare professions, and resources for ally education.

However, when the murder of George Floyd by police sparked a national movement for racial justice in May of 2020, it quickly became obvious to CHA/PA student leaders that this was the opportunity to push for increased change across the program to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

After attending a peaceful protest organized by the nursing school, three PA students set to work to answer the question: “What can we, as students, do to shift the culture of our program to better support under-represented minorities and decrease barriers to diversity in our program and profession?”

After initial conversations with Program Director Jonathan Bowser, student leaders authored their Diversity & Equity Accountability Plan signed by the majority of first, second, and third year students suggesting significant changes to promote this cultural shift. The highlights of this plan aim to:

  1. Determine strategies to increase diversity among CHA/PA faculty and staff
  2. Create a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) liaison position on faculty to act as a confidential resource for students to share experiences and concerns
  3. Increase DE&I training for all faculty, staff, and students
  4. Increase the focus on racial injustice and health inequities into the curriculum
  5. Encourage revision of the program’s Mission, Vision, and Goals to highlight our commitment to DE&I
  6. Encourage the program to evaluate areas of bias within our admissions process, re-evaluate interview and supplemental questions, increase student involvement, and implement implicit bias training
  7. Explore opportunities to build and highlight scholarship programs for underrepresented minority students

From this plan, the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DE&I) Accountability Committee was established. On this committee, passionate students work together across class cohorts and with faculty and staff to drive these changes forward. Some of our initial developments include:

  • Future incorporation of a DE&I position on faculty
  • Planned faculty retreat to update the program’s Mission, Vision, and Goals
  • Encouraging further focus on health inequities in lectures and the overarching curriculum
  • Evaluating admissions practices to identify opportunities for improvement
  • Partnership with the program to explore scholarship opportunities that will support diversity

The current COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the health disparities that exist in our country as Black and Hispanic Americans die of COVID-19 at a significantly higher rate than their white counterparts. As PA students, we are dedicated to not only serving these communities, but to changing the demographics of our profession to more accurately reflect the diversity of the patients we serve.

The power to drive change in the healthcare system lies in the hands of healthcare students across the country. We encourage you to critically evaluate your own PA programs and advocate for change. Please feel free to reach out to our DEIA Committee Chairs for more information. We welcome any opportunity to continue this essential dialogue and inspire our fellow colleagues to get involved.

Allison Avery, Co-Chair,

Charlotte Mitchel, Co-Chair,

Erica Ness, Curriculum Lead

Asni Solomon, Admissions & Scholarships Lead

Lauren Norheim, Member

Brianna Smith, D&I Position Lead

Katie Ganser, Member

Kate Woodard, Faculty Liaison

Giselle Cabrero, Staff Liaison