PA Foundation Fellow Focuses Research on PAs in the United Kingdom

PA Involved in Development of PA Profession in the UK

October 4, 2018

By Kate Maloney

The PA Foundation helps PAs and PA students make an impact – with their patients, in their communities, and for the profession. The PA Foundation’s Breitman-Dorn Endowed Research Fellowship was established in 1998 through a generous donation from Jerald A. Breitman in memory of his partner Stephen Dorn and is specifically awarded to PAs who are committed to conducting research on the PA profession and its influence on medical care.

Role as PA combines research and clinical care

Tamara Ritsema, MPH, MMSc, PA-C/R, is a PhD student and recipient of the PA Foundation’s 2017 Breitman-Dorn Research Fellowship. In addition to her studies, she serves as an assistant professor of PA studies at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and is completing a dissertation entitled “Barriers and Facilitating Factors in the Integration of the First UK-trained Physician Associates into Secondary Care Services in the British National Health Service.” With a career steeped in research, Ritsema embodies the qualities of a Breitman-Dorn Research Fellow.

Tamara Ritsema
Tamara Ritsema

Ritsema was initially drawn to research and education over clinical care. She completed her master’s of public health at the University of Michigan Medical School, and it was there that she received encouragement from a mentor to pursue a clinical career. Without a strong biological science background, Ritsema first had to finish a post-baccalaureate, pre-medical program to complete pre-requisites before she could even apply to PA school.

While she had always been interested in research, she chose the PA profession because of the flexibility it would give her to combine research and clinical care. After graduation from Emory University’s PA program, she took a job at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine which allowed her to continue her involvement in both research and clinical care. “It was a fantastic opportunity,” she says, “to use both aspects of my training.” When she started at Johns Hopkins, her research was entirely clinical in nature; over the last 10 years, her focus has changed to health workforce research.

Dissertation on PA role in UK hospitals

Ritsema’s dissertation focuses on the development of the PA role in hospitals in the United Kingdom (UK). Working as a PA educator in the UK, her research arose naturally from her career experiences. She has been heavily involved in the development of the PA profession in the country and currently serves as chair of the research committee for the Faculty of Physician Associates, the national PA professional organization in the UK. “Because the profession is so new in the UK, most research questions have not been answered,” she shares. “I chose to look at how things go when a person becomes the first PA on a hospital specialty service – what are the barriers to assuming this role and what things make the transition go more smoothly.” As the number of graduates from PA programs in the UK is increasing, these questions are increasingly important.

Ristema credits the Breitman-Dorn Research Fellowship with enabling her to conduct a qualitative study that would have been cost prohibitive otherwise. The Fellowship made her data collection and analysis higher quality and more efficient. She also found the peer recognition incredibly meaningful: “That a group of my colleagues believed this much in my research is very humbling,” she says.

Advice for researchers: follow your passion

As a PA, an educator, and a doctoral candidate, Ritsema juggles devoted dissertation time with her professorial responsibilities—teaching classes, grading papers, administrative work, and meeting with students. Her advice to fellow PAs interested in pursuing a similar path? “You should be passionate about what you are studying. It is a ton of work and if you are not interested in what you are studying it will be a painful several years. You’re going to be investing four to seven years of your life in this.”

The PA profession was the intersection between clinical work, research, and education that Ritsema was looking for. She is already collaborating with colleagues in Canada and Ireland on similar programs, but remains focused on her UK project: “I want to turn in my dissertation first!”

If you’re a PA interested in research, learn more about the Breitman-Dorn Research Fellowship. The 2019 application cycle will open next July.

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Kate Maloney is AAPA’s senior manager of corporate communications. She can be reached at [email protected].