The Transition of the Association of PA Programs to the Physician Assistant Education Association: A Critical Step in the PA Profession’s Evolution

Knott & Lombardo

As remembered by Paul Lombardo, APAP President 2003-2004, and Patrick Knott, APAP President 2004-2005

During our years as Presidents of the Association of Physician Assistant Programs (APAP, which later became PAEA), the Association was heavily dependent on the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) for resources key to executing its day to day operations and membership activities. For example, hiring of the APAP Executive Director and staff involved principals at the AAPA and the APAP Annual Conference was administered by AAPA staff.

Although APAP’s partnership with AAPA was critical for the Association’s success during the early days, APAP leadership and staff determined the time was right to move from the discussion stage to the operation stage of becoming an independent entity. During an informal meeting of Executive Director Timi Agar-Barwick and President Lombardo, a rough business plan was drawn up which would serve as a blueprint for APAP’s goal of becoming a truly independent organization. It included not only a plan for management, but also a plan to re-brand and potentially even re-name the organization.

As this idea became more public, it gained momentum among the APAP board and membership. Like any significant organizational change, the idea of an independent organization and name change generated conflicting viewpoints. Opinions ranged widely, from those who recommended dissolving APAP and becoming a formal part of the AAPA to a complete independence of APAP from the AAPA. In order to advance the discussion, President Lombardo created a “Transition Task Force (TTF)” charging President Elect Knott to bring back a set of recommendations for organizational restructuring that would best serve accredited PA programs and their members. At the time the work of the TTF began, proposals were considered along the entire spectrum of opportunities. Task Force members included: Lisa Mustone Alexander, David Asprey, Paul Lombardo, Dawn Morton-Rias, Dana Sayre-Stanhope, Sherry Stolberg, and Timi Agar-Barwick. Members were carefully selected from PA leaders who both supported and opposed the idea of becoming an independent entity in order to ensure that the TTF would generate a balanced discussion with supportable recommendations. Ultimately, the board adopted the TTF’s recommendation to separate the management and identity of the organization representing PA programs and faculty from that of the AAPA.

At this very time, the board was starting to see new revenue streams and realized that the organization would have the finances to grow significantly and increase its member services. In order to do this, it would need to expand its staff and relocate to a larger headquarters. 

A major issue also under consideration during our successive terms of office was executing a contract with an outside vendor to manage applications to PA programs on a national scale. After an initial short-term contract with a smaller vendor, success was ultimately achieved by retaining Liaison International, a company that has since grown to manage the centralized application services for most of the health care professions. The national PA application service was called CASPA. In spite of many gears turning at the same time, exceptional attention was paid to securing the CASPA contract, since the revenues from that service would largely provide the fiscal foundation on which the “new APAP” would operate and, indeed, is a major part of today’s PAEA operating budget.

President Knott made visits to Alexandria, VA every few weeks for a year to work on moving plans. We had realtors show us many office buildings until we found one that had the current space we needed and additional space for future growth. We also developed a new benefits package for the employees and negotiated their salaries.

While this work of the organization was going on, we were also considering a rebranding campaign. We enlisted the help of several people to develop this plan. It began with a board retreat that was facilitated by John Popoli, who was the President of the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. John did a wonderful job leading us through a discussion about the mission and goals of our organization and member programs. We also enlisted a graphic designer and a marketing firm to help us with a name change, branding statements, and artwork.

During the next year, we showed our work to a variety of constituents to get feedback, and then we continued to develop and modify our ideas. Finally, at the annual PAEA Education Forum in Puerto Rico (2005), we presented all of our work to the membership. We unveiled the Physician Assistant Education Association name, logo depicting the bridge from education to practice, and the tag line “Scholars. Leaders. Partners.”