PA Leadership—More Than Just an Afterthought
Posted by PAs ConnectComment

Hartsell_ZachThis article appears on the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants’ blog, Musings.

I recently attended a national workforce conference where I presented survey data about PAs in management positions.1 The data presented were from a 2013 PAs Who Are Administrators, Managers, and Supervisors (PAAMS) survey, which provided a snapshot of the characteristics of PAs who have leadership positions in healthcare and were members of the PAAMS listserv. Not unexpectedly, their roles and characteristics were heterogeneous and diverse. For example, survey participants identified 15 different titles used to describe their positions, with nearly 10% of respondents reporting that they had management or leadership responsibilities without an official title.


The survey data also suggested that PAs in clinical leadership roles may need additional mentorship and development. Nearly 50% of the respondents reported being in their leadership position for less than three years, and fewer than 50% reported any formal business or management training before stepping into their leadership role. Although this information is not necessarily surprising for leaders in a clinical role, only 43% of employers provided any leadership or management training to support these PAs, which is surprising. This represents a gap in what leaders know and potentially need to know to find success in their roles. PAAMS events and the AAPA Clinical Leaders Conference provide valuable resources, but are not able to provide the full breadth of what is required from PAs in clinical leader roles.


“A resource that I am excited to hear more about is AAPA’s Center for Healthcare Leadership and Management (CHLM).”
The data were received favorably at the workforce conference and perceived by some as a call to action. A non-PA workforce researcher commented that, although he and his colleagues had worked with PA workforce projections for years, they had never once thought about who was going to lead this workforce, which is projected to keep growing.



When I speak with colleagues in leadership roles, they identify different ways to overcome these gaps. Some learn on the job. Some get training through their organization, or their organization pays for training. Many attend leadership conferences like the AAPA Clinical Leaders Conference, and some pursue advanced degrees, such as master of health administration (MHA) or master of business administration (MBA). I have held leadership positions at two different organizations and had the opportunity to participate in many different forms of leadership training. I chose to obtain an MHA, but this is certainly not the only path to success.

Four years ago, for example, I attended the Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM) Leadership Academy, a valuable intensive workshop for people interested in leading hospital medicine teams. SHM is very supportive of PA involvement and has used PA facilitators at the event regularly in the past. The tools taught and the lessons learned at the event were many of the same principles I learned in my MHA program. The main difference was the scope and context of the discussions. PA leaders have many different paths. The key is identifying the most productive path in a world full of choices.

A resource that I am excited to hear more about is AAPA’s Center for Healthcare Leadership and Management (CHLM).2


Zachary Hartsell, PA-C, MPAS, program director and vice chair of operations and workforce development, and an associate professor in the PA program at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. 


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