Merson plans to expand the IHP’s reputation for its PA program through expanded community involvement, advocacy, disaster preparedness, and simulation.

It comes as no surprise to the IHP community that Dr. Josh Merson was appointed as the new chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies, given his contributions as a core founding faculty of the program and his expertise in program curriculum design, medical simulation, emergency medicine, and advocacy.

He plans to maintain these areas of focus in his new role, while continuing to embrace and nurture diversity in the profession. While the IHP’s PA program remains significantly more diverse than many PA programs in Massachusetts and around the country, there is always more to be done.

man stands with two women in scrubs
Josh Merson (left) stands with 2 former students and 2020 IHP graduates Meaghan Murtagh (blue) and Jordyn Durkin (black), as they give their time to a disaster medicine effort at the Chelsea Isolation Hotel at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Merson did not start out with the goal to become chair of a program. He was fascinated with the human body, with surgical procedures, and with emergency rescue. Growing up, he would watch live streams of surgical procedures, dreaming of being a part of emergency care teams like those he saw on TV.

So, when he attended Boston University for undergrad, he studied health sciences and became an EMT - seeing this as the first steppingstone to achieving his long-term goals. He knew he wanted to work in healthcare, particularly in an emergency setting. When he discovered the PA path, he was drawn to the way they work collaboratively within a healthcare team and knew it was right for him. 

“Emergency care was really what my passion has always been. It was just about finding what is the best opportunity for me to do that,” Merson explained. “I came across the PA profession which allowed me to truly achieve my goals long term and how I wanted to get there.”

Quickly, he began doing the work he had long dreamed of doing: helping people in urgent care and emergency care situations. He spent time working at a variety of area hospitals, clinics, and health centers, then expanded his work in emergency care by doing contract work with a number of disaster relief organizations, community organizations, and even in various departments and entities within the U.S. government. 

To this day, he continues practicing in internal medicine at Boston Healthcare for the Homeless, offers telemedicine services with MGH Primary Care, and serves as both a Disaster Medical Assistant Team member within the Department of Health and Human Services and the current Legislative Chair of the Massachusetts Association of PAs.

Even throughout his roles in healthcare, Merson had a desire to teach. 

man stands with students outside the capitol
Merson poses with students (L-R) Emily Medina, Jessica Lee, Michael Mendez, Catherine Johnson, and Matt Reinman, during their visit to Washington, DC as part of 2023 Spring Advocacy Day hosted by the PA Education Association.

man sits with students in masks inside political office
Merson, far left, sits in Senator Ed Markey’s office with students during a visit to Washington, DC.

As one of the first to attend PA school from his program at BU, Merson was tapped post-grad to help advise other BU students following this path and serve as an alumni mentor of sorts. He was then asked back to guest lecture. Even in his first few roles as a PA, he was asked to help train his colleagues and physicians. 

“I've always loved education,” he shared. “Since undergrad when giving class presentations, I've always liked being at the at the front of the classroom and having the opportunity to educate others.”

So, years later, when Merson heard the IHP was starting a brand-new PA program, he was interested. Though he had only been working in the field five years at the time, he didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to begin his academic career and help build a program from the ground up. He knew this was the team he wanted to be a part of. He applied immediately.

“I knew that the IHP was a strong educational institution within the Mass General Brigham system,” he said “And I knew there would be very significant opportunities for learning and clinical placement for our students, so I thought if I was going to start up program anywhere, this is where I would want to be.”

Since then, Merson has risen through the ranks at the IHP, from instructor and professor, now to PA Chair. He’s been heavily involved in simulation, OSCE examinations, and in continuing professional development

“While I’ll never say that I’m an expert at educating others, this new opportunity really allows me to support others’ growth in education, allows the continued growth of their own careers, and allows us all to have a subsequent impact on students and patient outcomes,” he said.  

School of Healthcare and Rehabilitation Sciences Dean Dr. Laura Plummer is confident in Merson’s ability to lead in his new role. 

“Professor Merson has the expertise, talent, and skills to support the faculty, staff, and students in the PA program,” said Plummer. “We look forward to the further success of the program under his leadership.”

The two sides of his career have now come together nicely: emergency healthcare and education.

“My entire career has been focused on supporting others through my advocacy, education, and disaster medicine work. I’ve worked to eliminate red tape and eliminate barriers for others. Being in this role at the IHP will allow me to continue to support the growth of the profession, and that of our faculty and students so that we may continue to be the best PAs we can be,” said Merson.

While his plans for his new role are numerous, one goal remains front and center: educating IHP students to be a part of something greater than themselves.  

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