By Melissa Ricker
Like every other student beginning PA school, I thought I was prepared because I had an impressive undergraduate resume and grades. Throughout my undergraduate career, I triaged for a rural emergency clinic, volunteered at a local hospital and conducted independent research at the National Institutes of Health. But by the end of my first week of class, all of that became insignificant. This was graduate school and everything was different.
When we become PA students, one of the biggest adjustments we have to make is learning how to master the sheer amount of material we’re given in the short amount of time. Those first two months of school were very challenging. It required dedicating late nights, early mornings and weekends to school.
It was near to the end of September, and it was my responsibility to plan PA Week. My studies were occupying my every waking moment so I wasn’t enthusiastic about PA Week. I had never heard of PA Week, and I didn’t know what to do. Through discussions with East Carolina University faculty members Eric Meyer, PA-C and Jane Trapp, PA-C, my view of PA Week changed significantly and they became my inspiration. If they could figure out a way to teach, be role models for students and care for patients, I could find a way to make time to plan PA Week.
To help me plan my events, I asked ECU PA faculty members how PA Week was celebrated in the past. Apparently, not much was done so I had a opportunity where I could be very creative and not duplicate what was done in prior years. So I thought what could I do to raise awareness of the PA profession in the small rural community of Greenville, N.C.? I started by reaching out to area high schools with medical science classes. The high school teachers were eager to have our students come into their classrooms to educate their allied health students about the importance and practicality of becoming PA’s.
Through networking with these high school students, I learned some ECU undergraduates were starting a pre-PA club. To help the pre-PA club increase membership and to get to know us, we set up an information table outside the student center on PA Day, October 6 and the club’s membership increased by 35. Additionally, we decided that running newspaper and radio ads during PA Week would maximize the number of people who heard about what our program at ECU is trying to accomplish.
Lastly, I had the idea to write the mayor of Greenville. I explained that ECU is the only public institution of higher learning in North Carolina with a PA program, and PA’s do wonderful things in our rural community. I suggested that the PA profession deserves attention for the fantastic strides it has made in advancing health care in our community. Within 24 hours, in a email from the mayor, I was sent a draft proclamation to make PA Week official in Greenville. Less than two weeks later, the mayor came to our school for a proclamation signing on PA day.
The moral of the story is that, from one person’s initiative at a small school in rural North Carolina, we made an impact in our community. We honored PAs in our community who deserve recognition and spread the word about PAs and what they do. My hope is that other PA students will be empowered to overcome challenges to celebrate PA Week!
Melissa Ricker is a second-year student at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. She is the Student Academy’s southeast regional director. She is interested in practicing primary care in a medically underserved rural area.