“Demand the Ball” and Other Advice for Female PAs

Be Grateful for What We Have But Demand What We Deserve

June 13, 2018

By L. Gail Curtis, MPAS, PA-C, DFAAPA

Photo Credit: Barnard College, Abby Wambach: Barnard Commencement 2018

It’s that time of year when students don their caps and gowns at commencement, where, if they’re lucky, they hear some inspirational words from someone who has “made it.”

As a PA, mother, and educator, I was recently moved after reading Abby Wambach’s commencement address to the women of the all-female Barnard College in New York.  With our profession, currently nearly 70 percent female, now in its sixth decade of service to our patients, I felt her advice was particularly impactful and encourage you to read it.

If you’re in between patients, and scrolling through news on your phone, I’ll give you the highlights, and how I think her advice applies to female PAs.

Wambach reminds women to be grateful for what we have but demand what we deserve. According to the 2017 AAPA Salary Report, female PAs are paid on average 93 cents for every $1.00 that male PAs are paid. This discrepancy is found even after controlling for factors such as hours worked, specialty practice, experience, and other career variables. I am passionate about this issue. Make sure you check out the resources from AAPA in Career Central to help YOU get what you deserve.

She goes on to talk about the importance of teams, of uniting our “packs” so we can work together to change the system. As PAs, we work in one of the biggest systems there is: healthcare. We also have to deal with the laws and regulations within the system that — as we all know – frequently present barriers to caring for our patients. PAs have a great respect for team-based care; in fact, it’s the number one tenet under our Optimal Team Practice policy.

“Make failure your fuel.” Failure doesn’t bring you down; it’s fuel to get you going. Wambach suggests that “failing up” leads to growth. In my experience, PAs tend to be pretty competitive. We tend to be overachievers. So if you feel like you’ve hit a career rut, or maybe you didn’t get that promotion you wanted, think of it as fuel to get where you want to go.

“Lead from the bench.” Maybe you took some time off, or cut back your hours, to take care of a parent or new baby. She writes “You’re either a leader everywhere or nowhere,” and as an important reminder to the moms out there: “the fiercest leading I’ve ever seen has been done between mother and child. Parenting is no bench. It just might be the big game.”

“Champion each other.” Wambach suggests that women have often been pitted against each other but we must turn to each other to amplify our voices, to “claim the success of one woman, as a collective success for all women.” Whether on your healthcare team or at the larger institution where you work, this is a good reminder to look around to see who’s at the table where decisions are made. Are there PAs there? What about female PAs?  People of color? If not, make it so.

“Demand the ball.” Maybe it’s a stereotype but women tend to be nurturers. We take care of people. Maybe that’s why so many of us go into medicine! Wambach tells a story about how a mentor of hers was so busy coaching everyone else that she realized she was losing the game. Wambach suggests that you have to be mindful of where you are in the game and know when you need to demand the ball. As our new ad campaign states, “Your PA Can Handle It.”

Finally, when thinking about life or your career as a PA, I find this question particularly relevant to the women in our profession: Wambach says, “Don’t just ask yourself, ‘What do I want to do?’ Ask yourself: ‘WHO do I want to be?’ Because the most important thing I’ve learned is that what you do will never define you. Who you are always will.”

You can read the full text of Wambach’s commencement address here or watch it on YouTube.

Gail Curtis serves as AAPA President and Chair of the Board of Directors. Contact her at gcurtis@aapa.org.