The importance of continuous quality improvement cannot be overstated, given our ever-evolving health care landscape. In order for PAs to continue providing the highest-quality health care to our patients, educators and practitioners must engage in an ongoing dialogue to ensure a strong alignment between educational expectations and clinical competencies.
In March 2016, the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) hosted the Stakeholder Summit, bringing together 61 thought leaders, including PAs, PA educators, policy makers, and employers from across the country. The Summit’s principal focus was to identify the key skills, knowledge, and experiences that new PA graduates need to be successful in clinical practice — and how PA education can adapt to better prepare students for the health care environment they will encounter.
In addition to PAEA, three other national PA organizations sponsored the Stakeholder Summit: the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA); the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA); and the American Academy of PAs (AAPA). This joint project of the “Four Orgs” — the PA organizations representing the entire PA lifecycle — serves as a model for how other health professions associations can collaborate to build a shared understanding of the important issues affecting their constituents.
The Summit yielded many crucial insights and constructive suggestions that will help PAEA in our efforts to ensure education is aligned with the practice environment. However, additional dialogue across the PA profession will be needed to explore these ideas in greater depth and identify next steps. For this reason, we’re calling the Summit the first in a series of “fortunate events” through which we can address the future of PA education.
Over the course of two days, the attendees examined a variety of issues, designed to achieve the following objectives:
Attendees were asked to take a perspective of someone looking back from the future — a future where PA education and practice are tightly aligned and where new graduates are able to “hit the ground running” as they enter a variety of practice settings (e.g., primary care offices, hospitals, specialty clinics). From their vantage point in the “successful future,” we asked attendees to tell the story of how we got from the present to their imagined future, describing the challenges they were able to overcome along the way.
The stories that attendees told grappled with the most relevant issues of contemporary PA education: creating more opportunities for PA students to get practical, high quality clinical training; adapting the PA curriculum to include interpersonal and clinical reasoning skills; helping employers understand and experience the value that PA students can contribute to their practices; and developing PA programs that promote interprofessional education experiences.
The insights gained from attendees at the Summit helped us develop a set of guiding principles that span the continuum of PA education — from the pre-acceptance process through the transition into practice. Many of the guiding principles are meant to reinforce the existing strengths of PA education, while others encourage both educators and employers to reconsider some of the current norms.
While these guiding principles are focused on education, PAEA will need to leverage our unique and powerful relationship with our Four Org partners to prioritize and implement these ideas. In particular, we’ll need to work closely with ARC-PA to ensure that accreditation supports the educational innovations that PA programs need to adopt to keep pace with changes in practice, new models of teaching, and other opportunities that strengthen the profession’s ability to educate future PAs.
Note: The views expressed in this summary are those of the Physician Assistant Education Association, and do not necessarily represent the conclusions of other Stakeholder Summit attendees or sponsors.