PA Students: Engagement in AAPA is Vital

Student Academy President Emphasizes Involvement

September 5, 2019

By Cooper Couch, PA-S

Cooper Couch 2019 Headshot
Cooper Couch, AAPA’s Student Academy President

My name is Cooper Couch, and I am a current third-year PA student at the Primary Care PA Program at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California. I am originally from a rural area of northwestern Oklahoma, but now call western Colorado my home. I am honored to represent the voice of PA students nationwide as president of the Student Academy and student director on the AAPA Board of Directors. It is such an exciting time for our profession, and the Student Academy Board of Directors has been hard at work planning and strategizing this year to best represent and serve PA students across the nation. I am eager to introduce myself and share the many ways you can get involved with AAPA and the Student Academy.

[Meet the current Student Academy Board of Directors.]

My decision for wanting to become a PA was multi-faceted and very personal. I value compassion, honesty, and intentionality, and I want to be very intentional in sharing my story with all of you. I hope my message will inspire you to go beyond your classroom and clinical education into leadership service for our profession, and ultimately our patients.

I chose to become a PA because I wanted to make a difference. My mother passed away when I was 13 after a battle with bile duct cancer, and my father passed away when I was 25 after long-term complications from a dissecting abdominal aortic aneurysm eight years prior. If it weren’t for PAs and rural providers in my community, I would not have had as much time with my parents as I did. With the current primary care provider shortage in the U.S., it is important that PAs engage in advocacy efforts that lead to increased access to the high-quality medical care PAs provide to patients on a daily basis. I encourage you all to become familiar with AAPA’s Model State Legislation for PAs (Model Law) to better understand best practices in the legislation and regulation of our profession, designed to  promote PA practice consistency across states.

While my parents were the reason I decided to pursue medicine as a way to make a difference, it was not until undergrad that I decided that the PA profession was the right path for me. I studied Spanish, French, and German at Middlebury College, a liberal arts college in Vermont, and graduated as a Spanish major. My liberal arts education, centered on building a broad general knowledge base with a heavy focus on writing and effective communication, was instrumental in my decision to become a PA. I am sure you are all familiar with the advantages of seeing a PA for medical care. Adaptable, collaborative, competent professionals are what our healthcare system needs. Much like a liberal arts education, the broad, generalist medical education that PAs receive makes us adaptable to a dynamic healthcare system. I hope to dedicate my life to practicing medicine in underserved, rural areas. In my eyes, PAs are perfectly poised to increase access to high-quality medical care, especially in rural and underserved communities.

We are at a pivotal moment in the history of America’s healthcare system. With the rapid growth of PA programs across the country and impactful decisions being made by the AAPA board, our engagement as students is vital. PA students and early-career PAs are quickly becoming the majority voice for the entire PA profession, and we must be up to date on laws, regulations, and issues throughout the healthcare sector that affect PA practice and especially issues affecting patients.

For example, every year at the AAPA Conference, the House of Delegates (HOD) meets to consider resolutions that establish the collective values, philosophies, and principles of our profession. The student delegation has one representative for every 850 AAPA student members. With more than 17,000 student members, it is the largest of all the delegations to the HOD. From discussions regarding the Title Change Investigation, to Optimal Team Practice, to online education, as PA students, we represent unique experiences that bring a wealth of value to the HOD. For our voices to be accurately represented and heard, it is important for students to apply to be a student delegate. The application deadline is September 30, 2019. I look forward to reviewing your applications with chief delegate Kaci Hardsock and other members of the Student Academy Board of Directors to elect a passionate group of individuals representing diverse student experiences.

[Apply to be a student delegate.]

During my tenure as President of the Student Academy, I want to see more students engage with our profession outside of the classroom and clinic. The earlier we engage, the better! There are many ways to get involved with the Student Academy of AAPA. You can apply to be on a Student Board Committee, or as part of the student delegation to the HOD, run for a position on the Student Academy Board of Directors, or get involved with a constituent organization or AAPA commission, workgroup, or task force. In fact, I first got involved with AAPA during my time as a 2018-19 Student Leader Fellow with the LBGT PA Caucus.

In addition to these opportunities, I would like to emphasize how important it is that you consider becoming involved with your PA program’s student society. Each individual student society acts as our “boots on the ground,” where PA grassroots advocacy often begins. Every student society has a Student Academy Representative and State Chapter Student Representative in addition to other leadership positions. These positions allow you to lend your voice to national and local advocacy efforts from the grassroots level. This is where the most important work happens.

[Get involved in the Student Academy.]

Whether you get involved nationally as the Student Academy Representative for your PA program or locally as the State Chapter Representative, take these positions very seriously. The students who hold these positions are dedicated to staying informed on the issues facing our profession and are aware of opportunities for their classmates to get involved and stay engaged. PA students are the future of the PA profession, and our engagement – now more than ever – is vital!

Thank you for carefully considering how you can help advance and advocate for the PA profession. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me ([email protected]) or the Student Academy ([email protected]). I look forward to collaborating with you soon!

When not in school, Cooper spends his time back home in Colorado with his fiancé Martin and their cattle dog Mila. They enjoy long-distance running, cooking, hiking, camping, traveling, and volunteering together.