Leading from the Front
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Lawrence Herman

Lawrence Herman, PA-C, MPA, began his term as president of the American Academy of Physician Assistants on June 10.  A PA for two decades, he is currently a tenured associate professor and chair in the New York Institute of Technology Department of Physician Assistant Studies. He began his career practicing emergency medicine and most recently, family medicine and urgent care.

In this Q&A, he explains why the profession has a bright future and outlines what he plans to accomplish for PAs as president.

Why did you become a PA?

To be honest, while I feel I was born to be a PA, it wasn’t my first career choice. As a teenager, I loved aviation and started flying when I was 12. By the time I reached college, I had multiple licenses to fly all types of aircraft and was studying aerospace engineering and astrophysics with the intent of becoming every little boy’s dream: an astronaut. Then, I developed high blood pressure freshman year. The next year my father developed cancer, and I left school to take care of the family business.

It wasn’t until my mid-30s that my wife convinced me to go back to school to practice medicine. Unquestionably, it was what I should have done from the beginning, but I’m convinced that things happen for a reason.

Why did you want to lead AAPA?

Medicine is changing so quickly that it’s difficult to keep up, and impossible to predict the future. Fortunately, PAs are perfectly positioned in this new era, and I’m excited about helping to lead them through this change. We can dramatically alter the healthcare landscape in this country and positively impact our patients.

Hold onto your seats, because you’re in for the ride of a lifetime. But remember to keep your eyes open, because you don’t want to miss the view.

What do you hope to accomplish during your tenure as AAPA president?

This is not the “old” AAPA, and you will like what you see.

AAPA has developed an aggressive and robust strategic plan to lead the profession, and we are accelerating it to continue to reduce PA practice barriers and increase public awareness and favorable opinion of PAs, as well as increase AAPA member satisfaction through relevant and timely products and services, such as PA Navigator, the digital home for PAs.

In particular, we must acquire substantial and irrefutable data to support the economic and intrinsic value of PAs across all settings. We’re putting together a final report on a pilot study on PAs’ value prior to expanding our efforts.

Next, we will be initiating a three-year public relations campaign to identify and make PAs completely recognizable to the public.

Most importantly, we need to grow AAPA’s membership by proving value across the lifespan of PAs, from student to new graduate to experienced and mature clinicians. We’ve already started to see the fruits of these labors in increasing membership numbers.

This is not the “old” AAPA, and you will like what you see.

What should PAs be concerned about right now?

PAs should be concerned about many things, starting with being the best possible clinicians and taking care of patients at the highest level. PAs have always done that well, and we need to continue to escalate our clinical acumen.

But PAs also need to continue to take on leadership roles. This includes all settings, from hospitals to the smallest private practice. You can be a champion in diabetes care, spearhead a new EHR or volunteer to sit on or even chair a committee in your hospital.

The bottom line is that PAs need to make themselves known as leaders and become key decision-makers. Those who let people make decisions for them are at the mercy of others.

What should PAs be excited about right now?

PAs should be excited about change, and we must be flexible in adopting those changes. Change is painful and difficult, but it will happen. PAs need to be leading that charge, not bringing up the rear.

Remember, PAs are trained in the team model and to adapt to any setting and challenge. We are medical Marines. As a student, you were literally dropped into a hostile environment, dug a foxhole, established a beachhead, fought your way out, learned the local language and cared for the wounded. When you finally got comfortable and started to get good at what you were doing, you were yanked out, and dropped somewhere else for your next clerkship.

You are the single-best-trained healthcare provider for a world of change, so I am excited for each and every one of us.

How can AAPA become more relevant to PAs and students?

More than half of the PAs in this country have graduated within the past seven years, and adding current students to those ranks likely puts the median age of PAs in the late 20s. PA students are the de facto future of medicine and AAPA.

We are now graduating 7,000 new PAs each year, and soon that number will grow to 8,000. While this may appear to be a tsunami of new graduates, even this will not be enough to take care of the growing number of patients and the evolving re-focus from fee-for-service to fee-for-value.

Without ignoring our established members, AAPA has already started to enhance our focus on students and recent graduates with our new AAPA app, the student microsite, and increasing the number of visits to PA programs, as well as increasing the number of student track lectures.

Perhaps most importantly, we are listening. Know that as PA program faculty, I certainly hear from students daily, and I want to keep hearing from you!

Lawrence Herman, PA-C, MPA, is AAPA’s president and a tenured associate professor and chair in the New York Institute of Technology Department of Physician Assistant Studies.

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