Honoring the pioneers of the PA profession

Pioneering members of the PA community have made great strides for the profession.
Pioneering members of the PA community have made great strides for the profession.

I've been a PA now since August of 2000, and that makes 15 years. I got a late start, so I will always be junior to the seniors of the PA community. These are the ones who were there in the beginning, who slogged through the trenches of resistance and misinformation, and who led us to where we are now. I benefit every day from the work of the PA pioneers, as well as those who followed their wagon-wheel tracks.

Let me highlight a few of them.

Jim Cawley of George Washington University has always been an inspiration, and his even-keeled approach to documenting our profession via data collection has been invaluable.

Marilyn Fitzgerald was not a PA, but she was a pillar with a capital P in the AAPA. Her staff leadership was characterized by listening, action, and prompt responses to PAs. She led and helped keep the AAPA afloat through all the political changes of the last few decades.

Paul Robinson was a meteor. He rocketed up through the student academy leadership and did the same in the AAPA. He became AAPA president, but he died a premature death during his presidency in 2009. It shook the academy. It reminded us all about our temporary time on this planet and about what one person can do to move things forward.

Rick Rohrs is a past AAPA president, notable for his efforts to include diversity and disparities in the AAPA conference agenda. He single-handedly spearheaded the first AAPA “Diversity Roundtable,” a successful and well-attended event at the 2006 AAPA annual conference where issues of racial equality were discussed openly in a collaborative setting.

George Washington University is home to some of the most productive and progressive PAs who focus on racial and other health disparities. PA educators Howard Straker, Susan LeLacheur, Jackie Barnett, Karen Wright, and others show how one program can provide momentum to an entire profession that is trying to integrate racial and cultural disparities into the PA curriculum.

Terry Scott, director of my alma mater, the MEDEX PA program at the University of Washington, has put his heart and soul into finding a way to inject health disparities subject matter into an already-crowded PA curriculum. Terry and I have been working together to find the best way to teach PA students about health disparities, and his commitment to the issue is remarkable.

The AAPA LBGTPA Caucus should be recognized for their work on LBGT issues both inside and outside of AAPA activity. I'm a member, and they do great work.

Darron Smith is a PA educator from the University of Tennessee Health Center. He's a provocative writer who put together a textbook for PA programs that focuses on teaching about health disparities. (Full disclosure: I wrote a chapter in the book.) He's not afraid to mix it up or to push us to think about disparities, and that's what the profession needs.  

Patti Pagels, a PA from Texas, has had an accomplished career in PA leadership marked by her willingness to stand up for issues of equality and inclusiveness. As chair of the now-defunct AAPA Committee on Diversity, she energetically and successfully lobbied for the inclusion of disparity, diversity, and inequality topics in annual AAPA conferences. 

The list goes on and on, but the point of this is to recognize the diversity of our profession and the breadth of our reach. I'll keep trying to achieve as much as these leaders, and I'll honor the efforts of the PAs who came before me.

Jim Anderson, MPAS, PA-C, ATC, DFAAPA, is a physician assistant in Seattle.

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