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Diversifying the Physician Assistant Profession and Celebrating PA Week

October 07, 2022
pa students stand in front of brick wall
PA students and faculty as part of Project Access, including Emily Moran, Professor Martha McKean MPH, Ifedayo O. Akinyemi, Olivia Magnussen, Catherine Johnson, Erika Dooley, Emily Medina, Amy Cabrera, and Colby Young.

MGH Institute’s students, faculty, and alumni are working to diversify the profession.

By Kate Chaney
Office of Strategic Communications

As the country recognizes Physician Assistant Week October 6-12, faculty, students, and alumni in the MGH Institute’s physician assistant studies program are continuing their efforts to increase the number of people of color in the profession to better reflect the country’s growing diverse population.

Locally, the Physician Assistant Education Association’s Project Access initiative at Everett High School was recently launched to encourage people from diverse backgrounds to consider becoming physician assistants. 

Nationally, only 30% of physician assistants and PA students self-identify as people of color. While 37.7% of current PA students at the IHP identify as students of color, continuing efforts to increase diversity in the field is exactly the purpose of the Everett project.

Spearheaded by second-year PA student Emily Moran and Faculty member Martha McKean, the program aims to support high school students in navigating their interest in the profession, and ensuring they have the tools and guidance to succeed in pursuing the required education should they decide to. 

“I have always had a passion for networking and youth engagement,” Moran said, who has prior experience speaking to high school students about careers as a training officer while she was an EMT before enrolling at the Institute. “I find it very rewarding as I progress through my life and education to give time to be a sounding board for anyone in a similar situation.” 

Her experience thus far at Everett High has been inspiring, in part, because of the way the school already integrates healthcare into its curriculum – unique for schools of its kind.

“What's great about many of the programs like Everett is they have integrated health pathways into the curriculum so that high school students can explore these interests at a younger age,” Moran explained. 

The IHP’s Project Access Team is already planning trips to other area high schools, with Everett High just the first step in a larger initiative. 

A Student Effort

Graduating students in the class of 2022 are making waves in the profession already, too. 

Tiffany Passie, who is on the Board of Directors of Physician Assistant Students for Leadership, Equity, Anti-Racism, and Diversity, will speak during the Physician Assistant Education Association’s annual Education Forum on October 12-15 in San Diego. 

Passie, part of the Future Educator Fellows Presentation Group, will discuss the role of students underrepresented in medicine (URM) and the impacts this has on their experiences compared to their non-URM counterparts. 

“URM students report greater levels of mistreatment and stress, and lower levels of belonging comparatively,” said Passie, who in 2021 was the first IHP physician assistant student named as a Health Policy Fellow by the PAEA. “The emotional climate, faculty interactions, and mistreatment they experience during their PA education can exacerbate these reported differences.”

While attending the Institute, she lobbied the U.S. Congress to pass a bill that would allow graduate students to reduce their debt by qualifying for subsidized Stafford federal loans. Now, she wants to empower PA educators to make an impact through equitable assessment, faculty advising, and admission standards that promote diversity and improve student well-being outcomes.

“I am particularly devoted to changing the PA profession’s trajectory regarding diversity of providers and to improving the accessibility of PAs in providing care to all patients in all settings,” said Passie. “We need to develop policies which allow PAs to support health care as expansively as we can to impact as many patients as possible.”  

The PA program also recognizes the achievements of two soon-to-be alumni who presented their work at the Society of General Internal Medicine New England Conference back in September. Melissa Warmer, MPAS ’22, presented her research on the development of Charcot arthropathy in a 39-year-old male with chronic hepatitis C and alcohol use disorder without a history of diabetes, while Bertrand’s work covered congenital anomalies in inferior vena cava syndrome. Bertrand is also one of the program's Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) representatives. 

Further, two additional members of the class of 2022 have been accepted into competitive postgraduate fellowships and residencies. Brian Tulloh, MPAS ’22, has been accepted into the inaugural Postgraduate PA Oncology Fellowship at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Classmate Sonya Quaife, MPAS ’22, was accepted into the Internal Medicine Hospitalist Residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Tulloh shared his excitement about the accomplishment. “I believe advanced medical training at a world-renowned cancer center that integrates clinical research and patient-focused medicine, will help propel me towards the career I’ve envisioned,” he said. “I am eager to begin and continue to contribute to the fight against cancer, which has such a multifaceted and global impact.”