The Largest HBCU in the Country Celebrates PA Week 2023

On October 5, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University held its inaugural PA Week Celebration. The University of North Carolina Board of Governors approved the university last year to begin developing a PA program which will make it the sixth HBCU in America to house a PA program.

“The Department of PA Studies at NC A&T was honored to launch PA Week 2023 by hosting this inaugural Divine Nine Project Access event, in collaboration with historically black fraternities and sororities in service of preparing students early in their education to be competitive applicants for PA school,” said Nicole Burwell, PhD, PA-C, founding program director.

Dr. Burwell and Dr. Chileatha Wynn, founding director of clinical education, planned the event to introduce the students and campus community to the PA profession.

The event was attended by more than 100 participants including North Carolina A&T undergraduate students, pre-PA students, PA students, clinical PAs, PA educators, and supporters. 

During this three-hour celebration of the PA profession, those in attendance had the opportunity to learn about the history of the PA profession, the path to becoming a PA from college to PA school and choosing a specialty of practice. Information was shared with students, many of them hearing about the profession for the first time, on the versatility and options afforded to all along the PA path.

The PA Week 2023 event was both a celebration of the PA profession and a celebration of the Divine Nine (D9) organizations. Most of the D9 organizations were founded on the campus of Howard University, a historically Black university in Washington, DC. The founders of these organizations came together during a time in history when African American students on college campuses were excluded from sororities and fraternities because of racial discrimination.

These organizations were founded on principles that include scholarship, service, humanity, friendship, achievement, and community consciousness. These principles are in alignment with what PAs believe as we work to improve the lives of the patients and communities for whom we provide care.

“We believe in the mission of our college and are committed to our partnership with the community. Project Access is one of the ways we can be the change we want to see. Hearing about this amazing profession changes lives,” Dr. Wynn said. 

There was a Project Access presentation at the beginning of the evening. This initiative, spearheaded by the PAEA Admissions Team, serves to increase the number of people from underrepresented communities into the profession. There was also a panel discussion that included practicing PAs, PA educators, and one second-year PA student. The panelists shared what the journey to the PA profession has been like for each of them.

At the end of the evening, there was time for networking and one-on-one discussion for students and all who were present. By Friday, the faculty inboxes were filled with accolades and messages of appreciation.

“We spoke briefly after the event, and I would really like to speak with you one-on-one about a shift in my career journey after this impactful event,” one student wrote.

Another student suggested the day’s event may be life-altering.

“My entire journey through undergrad I thought I wanted to be a doctor with an MD. I came to this event with no intention to change my mind. I went home, had a change of mind, and made an entirely new plan,” the student said.

Andrea McKinnond, MMS, PA-C, President-Elect of the North Carolina Academy of PAs and Director of Clinical Education at Wake Forest University PA Studies, was a member of the panel.

“We know we are not doing everything we can do to address the needs of the communities we serve and that marginalized communities suffer the most. The PA profession is part of the solution but, our profession needs to mirror the communities we are committed to serving. All of us present tonight are committed to moving the needle,” McKinnond said.

Laura Okolie, DMSc, PA-C, President of the African Heritage PA Caucus and a faculty member at Duke University PA Program was also present. Dr. Okolie was in awe of being in the room with whom she called the “PA-C giants from across North Carolina.”

“The thought-provoking questions and insightful comments from the 70+ Black scholars present not only validated the purpose of Project Access but, also underscored the vision set forth by PA Brenda Jasper, one of the founders of the African Heritage PA Caucus. With these students, the future looks promising,” Okolie said.

Marc Latta, DHSc, PA-C, Lieutenant Colonel, Military Flight Surgeon, and a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. was able to share with the young men in attendance that “there is a place for you in our profession, we need you.”

“Your presence and your voice matter. African American students have unique perspectives and insights that are valuable and necessary in the field of medicine. Tonight, it was a privilege to be in the presence of PA pioneers, current colleagues, and the future of our awesome profession,” Dr. Latta said.

Dr. Burwell, who is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and the incoming president of the PAEA Board of Directors, was excited to be able to see this wonderful event come to fruition. She used the opportunity to share a bit of her vision for the program which will be the newest program to be housed in the Hairston College of Health and Human Sciences at North Carolina A&T.

The university was founded as a land grant institution in 1891 and has played a significant role in the struggle for civil rights for African Americans in the United States. It is quite fitting that this university will also have the distinction of becoming the first HBCU in North Carolina to establish a PA program.

Several of the practicing PAs, PA educators, and students present at the celebration are members of the Divine Nine. The organizations that were represented include the following:

  • Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.- Founded 1906, Cornell University
  • Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Founded 1908, Howard University
  • Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. Founded 1911, Indiana University
  • Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. Founded 1911, Howard University
  • Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Founded 1913, Howard University
  • Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Founded 1914, Howard University
  • Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Founded 1920, Howard University
  • Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., Founded, 1922, Indianapolis, IN (Chartered 1929, Butler University)
  • Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. Founded 1963, Morgan State University

(Note – The author of this article is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.)

We look forward to seeing the growth in collaboration between the Divine Nine organizations and PA programs around the country with future PA Week Celebrations. At North Carolina A&T State University this is the first of many to come. We look forward to the celebration next year in AggieNation.