Yale PA Online Students Visit Local High Schools to Mark National PA Week

Mary Bradley, Mary Garrison and Sheila Yack (left to right) marked National PA Week by sharing information about becoming a PA with high school students in their communities.

Six members of the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) Physician Assistant (PA) Online Class of 2020 marked National PA Week by visiting a high school in or near their local community and engaging with students about the role of PAs and the path to becoming a PA. Held October 6-12 each year, National PA Week recognizes the contributions of the PA profession to the nation’s health and raises awareness of the profession. 

The students visited four schools in Florida, Texas, and Connecticut. Although the settings were diverse—two of the schools were in rural settings and two were in cities—there were shared experiences. Perhaps most significantly, the high school students were largely not familiar with the PA profession, and many were excited to learn about this additional career path in medicine. Sharing this knowledge was rewarding for the PA Online students, who are enthusiastic to be pursuing this path themselves.

Students in Rural Texas Learning about the PA Profession

Jeni Wert visited Calallen High School, located in a rural area near Corpus Christi, Texas, where she was a special education math teacher for two years immediately before starting the Yale PA Online Program. About 80 students attended her presentation. Most of them were from health science, anatomy, and forensic science classes, but a few others interested in the topic joined the conversation.

Wert described the PA profession and various PA degree programs, as well as what students should start thinking about now if they are interested in possibly becoming a PA.

Reflecting on the session, Wert stated, “I don't think many, if any, students knew what a PA was and what the role of a PA was in health care. I had a lot of great questions about the structure of how doctors and PAs work together in different settings.”

For at least one student, the conversation expanded his thinking about possible career paths. “I had a student come up to me at the end and say that he had been questioning whether he wanted to be a doctor or not. He knew he wanted to go into medicine but wasn't sure being a doctor was the right choice. He said that he was now thinking that being a PA was a good fit for him.”

Mentoring: A Rewarding Experience

Wert also reflected on her own experience learning about the PA profession, and how it demonstrates the value of exposing younger students to the profession.

“Personally, I didn't know what a PA was until after college and didn't understand their role until I began working in hospitals. I thought that to be involved in the medical field, you were either a doctor or a nurse and after I decided I didn't want to become a doctor, I didn't think I had any other options. I think that if I would have known about being a PA in high school, I probably would have started my journey to becoming a PA much sooner. To hear that students were having the same thoughts that I was and then realizing that being a PA was another option for them was pretty wonderful.”

An additional rewarding experience for Wert was having some of her former students attend and ask questions.

“I had them when they were freshman, so being able to see how they've matured into juniors and seniors and now begin to consider medical careers was really awesome.” 

A few students wanted to know the answers to practical questions such as how to obtain PA shadowing hours, if 15 is too young to start shadowing, and what are good ways to gain experience while in college.

Returning to Alma Mater in Rural Florida

Tammy St. Louis also met with students in a familiar location, Belleview High School, where she had attended school. The school is located in Belleview, Florida, which has a population of just under 5,000 people.

St. Louis spoke to about 40 students, and while all of them had an interest in health care, only five knew what a PA was before her visit. St. Louis told the students about her health care experience and her path to PA school and suggested students could shadow PAs to learn more about the profession.

St. Louis found it rewarding to educate the students about the Yale PA Online Program specifically, and the PA profession more broadly, and was pleased that the teachers were just as interested as the students in hearing about the profession and the Yale PA Online Program.

Yale PA Online students speaking at Vandegrift High School in Austin, Texas.

Mary Garrison, Sheila Yack, and Mary Bradley together met with students at Vandegrift High School, in Austin, Texas. The 21 students were members of the school’s HOSA-Future Health Professionals organization, which is an international student organization with the mission of fostering leaders in the global health community through education, collaboration, and experience. Similar to Wert’s and St. Louis’ experiences, only five students acknowledged knowing what a PA was at the start of the session, despite their interest in health care careers. 

Garrison stated, “What I found most interesting and rewarding was how interested the students were in our presentation. They hung on our every word and asked questions throughout. We could've easily talked for another hour. I reviewed the HOSA mission statement and core values ahead of time. They are very much in line with the PA profession. These students are bright, driven, and already believe in something bigger than themselves.”

She noted that “the composition of health care teams and the relationship between doctors and PAs is a topic that needed more discussion.” The students asked for a copy of the presentation, which included resources that provide further information about the PA profession.

Bradley was excited that the group's advisor, an anatomy teacher at the school, told her afterward that the session made her consider going back to school to become a PA. “As a former high school science teacher, it was fun for me to get back in the classroom again,” Bradley said.

Sharing Advice in New Haven, Connecticut

Andrew Galbraith met with students at Hill Regional Career High School. While located in New Haven, Connecticut, Career is a regional magnet school with students from a broader geographic area who are attracted to the school’s focus on health, science, business, and technology. Galbraith met with about 10 students in an anatomy and physiology class and about 25 students in a health careers class. After providing a brief overview of the PA profession and the training to become a PA, he opened the conversation for informal Q&A.

Galbraith found it hard to gauge if the students were familiar with the PA profession before his visit, but many seemed eager to learn more about it.

“I emphasized that there is a great variety of health care fields other than nursing and being a physician,” he said. Galbraith found the most rewarding part of his visit to be advising “the students that there are many paths to working in health care and that they don't need to know exactly what they want to do at this point in their lives. Rather, they can focus on obtaining a solid foundation in biological and social sciences.”

Given the Yale PA Online Program’s focus on students meeting the health care needs of their local communities, it is fitting that the students spent PA Week educating high school students in their local communities about the PA profession, perhaps inspiring their future health care providers.

Citation for this content: Yale School of Medicine Physician Assistant Online Program