Are you an experienced clinician whom others often look to for advice? Is the best part of your day talking to patients and educating them about their medical problems or how they can improve their health? Are you a lifelong learner constantly trying to improve your knowledge base? Are you ready for a new challenge and looking for a way to give back to your profession?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are an educator in the making!
My own journey
I have been a PA for 23 years. I have spent about half that time as a PA educator and now I am an associate dean overseeing the education of not only PAs, but also PTs, OTs, ATs and SLPs. People ask me all the time, “Do you like it? Is it worth it? Don’t you miss the medicine?”
The answers to these questions are simple! Becoming an educator was one of the most rewarding decisions of my life. It has been an honor and a privilege to play a part in the education of so many clinicians over the years. Through them I have also touched the lives of many patients and if I have done my job well, that touch was with grace.
While my initial education trained me to be a clinician, over time and with guidance, mentorship and training, I slowly but surely also became an educator. It is impossible to separate my clinical world from my academic world, for I find that my initial training to be an educator actually started the day I saw my first patient and tried to answer their questions and continued with precepting my first student.
A world of possibilities
Many PAs think that becoming an educator means leaving the clinical world behind. Nothing could be further from the truth. Becoming a full-time educator is not the only option and does not mean giving up your clinical life completely, unless you so choose. In fact, I strongly encourage clinically practicing PAs who are interested in becoming PA educators to follow that old clinical adage, “start low and go slow!” Start by precepting or supervising the education of a student at the clinical site, giving a lecture or helping in an history and physical (H&P) examination lab. All these options, and many others, give you a chance to dabble in the world of education before you commit fully.
While some may eventually choose to commit to PA education as a profession, others may continue to work with students and PA programs on a limited basis. With 170 accredited PA programs, and more in the making, PA education is desperate for your expertise. We are willing to work with you in any way.
Also, if you tried being an educator once and had a bad experience, don’t give up so quickly. Remember that PA programs are like ice cream: We are all a delicious treat, but we come in a variety of flavors. So, if your first experience left you wanting, I urge you to try another flavor. With so many programs, so many students, and so much need, the possibilities are endless.
How to get started
I’ll bet you’re saying to yourself, “This sounds like an exciting opportunity! How do I begin and what are my options?” Below are some pointers you might find helpful:
- Reach out to your local PA program(s). If you are not sure which programs are in your area go to the ARC-PA website, which lists all 170 accredited PA programs by state and gives you the ability to link to each program’s website.
- If you are not currently precepting a PA student, what are you waiting for? Precepting a student, even a few days a week, is a great way to begin being an educator. Call your local PA program and tell them of your interest. The clinical coordinator or director of clinical education will take care of the rest. They will immediately come to you and worship at your feet, especially if you are a PA in OB/GYN PA or pediatrics. Keep in mind that deciding to take a student does not obligate you to a lifetime of teaching. There are no contracts to sign. Just try it for four weeks before you decide to continue or not.
- If precepting is not your cup of tea or if you want to do even more, consider sharing your knowledge by giving a lecture at your local PA program. Make a telephone call to the program and ask to speak to the program director or academic coordinator. Talk to them about your areas of interest and speciality. We are always looking for experienced PAs to share their expertise through a lecture, a case seminar, etc. The time commitment is minimal but the dividends are huge.
- Not sure you are ready to lecture but would like to still become involved? Maybe you could be a mentor, an advisor, an H&P paper grader or a site visitor. Perhaps you could work with students in skills lab teaching them to draw blood, suture, insert IVs, or do a thorough history and physical exam. The options are endless. Just call your local program and they will help guide you and give you all your options.
The bottom line is PA education needs you! You do not need formal teaching experience. As a PA, you already have experience as an educator and you practice that skill daily with your patients. Take the leap and help our profession grow and continue to provide quality, compassionate patient care by helping to shape tomorrow’s PAs. To learn more about PA education, visit the Physician Assistant Education website.
Mona Sedrak, Ph.D., PA-C, is the Associate Dean for the Division of Health Sciences and Associate Professor for the Physician Assistant Program School of Health and Medical Sciences at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J.