Over the last five years, the number of PA programs has increased by more than 20 percent. By the year 2017, an additional 70 programs are expected to receive provisional accreditation–bringing the total number of programs to more than 250. Amidst this period of exciting and exceptional growth for the PA profession, we must pause and ask if we are doing all that we can to ensure our longevity by instilling strong leadership values in our graduates. Unfortunately, I do not believe that we are.
The problem is not with the quality of our current professional leadership, but with their limited number. There are simply not enough PAs interested in pursuing leadership roles, and too few resources for those who wish to become involved. A microscopic minority end up serving the majority.
As a profession, we may not be inspiring leadership, particularly in the classroom setting. While I fully recognize that the PA curriculum is already jam-packed with content that alludes to leadership, I am amazed to find that on the official list of core competencies expected of PAs, the topic is only directly addressed once. In fact, leadership is mentioned in a single instance as a sub-bullet and is extremely vague, stating that graduates should be able to work effectively as a leader of a healthcare team. The issue is further complicated by the lack of national benchmark data pertaining to leadership training within PA programs.
To help with this, we could learn from our fellow providers. Few healthcare fields have grown as quickly as nurse practitioners. Consider their core competencies, the second of which explicitly addresses leadership along with multiple indicators of how that objective may be met. Further, medical students have access to the American Medical Student Association and its academy, which organizes leadership-based electives, hosts week-long leadership institutes and offers multiple yearly scholar programs centered on leadership. In addition, medical students can access internships and fellowships directly through the American Medical Association.
I recognize that there are some differences between PAs and the groups mentioned, including the number of licensed providers, and the age and historical context of each. I also appreciate the effort that has gone into this issue, such as leadership camps for students at state PA conventions supported by the Student Academy of AAPA. However, considering the exploding rate at which our profession continues to grow, are we developing leaders in the best, most effective and most efficient ways possible?
We must do better for the future health of our profession. Opportunities for leadership advancement should be plentiful for PA students, and should not operate in institutional or state silos. We must ensure a continuous bold pipeline of future leaders and groundbreakers, an absolute necessity as we continue to grow.
I propose the creation of a National Institute for Physician Assistant Leadership, which would focus on clinical, educational and professional leadership. Its mission would be to foster the next generation of PA leaders by guiding and developing curricular and extracurricular efforts; offering directly to students services such as online courses, scholarships, mentoring and networking opportunities; and collecting vital statistics related to leadership education.
Most PA students enter their graduate programs with strong foundations in the sciences and little academic training in the active role that leadership can play in personal, professional and career development. If we expect graduates to assume leadership responsibilities, as I believe we should, we must do a better job teaching and, perhaps more important, nurturing this skill. Just as educating us about medicine is critically important for patient care, promoting and encouraging leadership is paramount to the future of our profession.
Rich Bottner is a second-year PA student at Quinnipiac University where he is the president of his class, an Urban Health Scholar, and a Paul Ambrose Public Health Scholar. He also serves on the National Leadership Council of Primary Care Progress. Rich is a 2007 graduate of Babson College with a degree in business administration focused in entrepreneurship and leadership.