Kimberly Sapre, DMSc, PA-C, CAQ-EM, is the founder and president of the Virginia Association of Minority PAs, a state organization committed to fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive Virginia PA workforce representing the communities they serve to improve patient health care outcomes. Dr Sapre also is a medical consultant for an insurtech company, clinical instructor at The George Washington University in Washington, DC, and emergency medicine PA in Falls Church, Virginia.
Q: How long have you been in practice? Has your specialty changed during this time?
Dr Sapre: I’ve been a physician associate (PA) since 2011. I entered the PA program as a second career path. My undergraduate degree is in computer science and I taught middle school mathematics. Unfortunately, I became ill and entered the health care space as a patient. I spent a lot of time in emergency departments and inpatient hospital floors. The racism and discrimination I experienced as a patient motivated me to study medicine. I vowed to become a PA and advocate for patients who could not navigate the health care system.
I spent a decade practicing emergency medicine and worked in a Level 1 trauma center in northern Virginia. In my early years, I briefly worked in neurosurgery and interventional pain medicine. Eventually, I returned to my teaching roots and began clinical teaching at The George Washington University PA program. At the end of last year, I began full-time nonclinical work as a Medical Consultant with an insurtech company.
Q: What experience(s) helped determine your career path?
Dr Sapre: My interest in medicine began during my years of dealing with my illness. During those years, I was called a “drug addict” and accused of “faking” my symptoms. It was unfortunate to receive this type of treatment during some of the most vulnerable times in my life, but it lit a fire within. I vowed to learn medicine and advocate for patients. So many patients do not have the knowledge to advocate for their care and can be easily dismissed by some providers.
While in the PA program, I was drawn to specialties that required more hands-on procedures and enjoy the fast pace of the emergency department. Also, I knew that I could be a strong advocate for patients in that environment. I have been committed to fighting for underrepresented patients.
Q: What experience(s) led you to found the Virginia Association of Minority PAs?
Dr Sapre: The murders of Ahmaud Arbery (February 23, 2020), Breonna Taylor (March 13, 2020), and George Floyd (May 25, 2020) brought the topic of racism to the forefront in 2020. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic unveiled health care disparities that were always there. In the early days of 2020, my advocacy to eradicate the pervasive racism and discrimination in medicine grew stronger. I felt obligated to not only advocate for patients as an emergency medicine PA but also to educate my fellow colleagues. My research project during the Doctor of Medical Science program centered on the disparities in pain treatment in my institution’s emergency department.
I continued my educational advocacy and began presenting at both the American Academy of PAs (AAPA) and the Virginia Academy of PAs (VAPA) conferences on topics such as racism in the treatment of sickle cell disease, racism in the treatment of acute agitation, and overcoming language barriers. In Virginia, we did not have a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee so I founded the committee in October 2021 with a mission to increase diversity within the Virginia PA Profession. My work with VAPA inspired me to create a new nonprofit organization whose mission is to increase diversity within the PA profession. The Virginia Association of Minority PAs launched in February 2023.
The goals of the organization are to promote DEI within the Virginia PA profession; provide educational resources about health care disparities for PAs, PA students, pre-PA students; and provide mentorship for underrepresented minority PAs, PA students, and pre-PAs. We are in the early days of the organization and hope to increase our membership throughout 2023. We will have our first cohort of the mentorship program beginning in April.
We provide educational materials for PAs, PA students, and pre-PAs on our website and intend to provide scheduled events. The organization will participate in outreach activities to high schools and universities such as the AAPA’s Project Access Program. We will also provide regional networking mixers for our members within Virginia. Even though we are the Virginia Association of Minority PAs, there are no restrictions on our membership or mentorship participants. Membership shall be open to all individuals who commit to the mission and purpose of the organization. No application shall be denied on the basis of gender, age, ethnicity/race, disability, creed, color, national origin, or sexual orientation.
Q: How do you avoid burnout?
Dr Sapre: Working as an advocate in the DEI space as an underrepresented minority is exhausting. It is imperative to take time away from all work (paid and volunteer) to enjoy free time and relax. The work will never end and it is important to pace yourself if you want to continue working within the DEI space long-term. A wise person once said, “To give up means to accept that you are tired. But to rest and try again is a sign of determination.” With a slow steady pace, I hope to not become too tired to continue the work.
I enjoy reading, hiking, and birdwatching in my free time. Spending time in nature is an effective way to relax. Now that international travel has picked up, my husband and I will spend more time exploring the world.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?
Dr Sapre: You may encounter roadblocks during your journey, but there is always a different path that can be taken to reach your goal. A slow, steady pace of perseverance is the key to success. However, don’t forget to enjoy life while you can. Work will always be there, and it will continue even once you are gone.