Put Yourself Out There! Become a PA Student Leader

Consider Your Options, Don’t Short-Change Yourself, and Go for It!

May 18, 2020

By Eileen Denne, CAE, APR

Peggy Walsh, PA-C; Jonathan Baker, PA-C; Jamie Sabo, PA-C; Gregory Burns, DHSc, MMS, PA-C, DFAAPA; Cooper Couch
From left to right: Peggy Walsh, PA-C; Jonathan Baker, PA-C; Jamie Sabo, PA-C; Gregory Burns, DHSc, MMS, PA-C, DFAAPA; Cooper Couch

What does it mean to be a PA student and a leader? What leadership opportunities are available to students while in school and after graduation? Four PAs share their leadership trajectories and steps any PA student can take to begin their leadership journey. Their main message: “Just put yourself out there!”

The PA and student panel called “Finding the On-Ramp to Student Leadership: Where do the Opportunities Lie?” at AAPA’s Leadership and Advocacy Summit included moderator Cooper Couch, Student Academy president and student director on the AAPA Board of Directors, and panelists:

Below are selected highlights of the conversation about student and career leadership as a PA.

What did your move from student to early career leadership look like?
Peggy Walsh (PW)- I was AAPA student academy president as I started my first PA job. It taught me good time management in that I could work, learn my job, and still feel like I could fit in volunteering. By being involved, I learned so much more about the PA world that I wouldn’t have known. Opportunities suddenly became apparent. Lots of my experience has been a ‘Come with me’ approach. I had lots of people who helped me along the way by saying, ‘Would you be interested?’ Just be willing to show up.  As a new PA, ask about committees, go to Constituent Organization (CO) meetings, board meetings, and come to AAPA’s events.

Jamie Sabo (JS)– After graduation I worried that I would let leadership activities fall below my work priorities. But I stayed involved through AAPA’s Governance Commission. Monthly calls were grounding and helped me with networking. So, I encourage you to stay involved after getting your first job.

What opportunities and barriers have you faced when seeking leadership opportunities?
(Gregory Burns) GB– My advice is to become accustomed to obstacles in practice. I often see jobs for APRNs. I tell students to put their resume in as a PA. Maybe the employer just hasn’t thought about a PA. When I graduated there weren’t too many jobs in primary care in south Florida. I went door-to-door and put my name in.

PW– I work in a pediatric subspecialty which has been dominated by NPs for a long time. I found there were times when PAs got left behind. I have taken the opportunity to insert myself whether asked or not. I share about what PAs do but data is where the meat is. The more I can talk about skills and competencies, the better; it has been very useful. It’s also been enlightening and fun. I encourage you to look for opportunities to be a leader. Ask and show up. It’s ok to make waves in your workplace. The worst that can happen is that someone says no. It never hurts to ask.

What role have mentors played in your careers and how did you find them?
Jonathan Baker (JB)– I always pictured mentorship as formal meetings and setting goals but I have always had informal mentorships. It took five years until I figured out my conversations with a good friend constituted a mentorship. I now mentor others and we communicate via Instagram.

JS– A mentor doesn’t have to be one person. You can take advice and model behavior at any level.

PW– I encourage you to look outside PA world for mentors. I work with a female surgeon who is awesome. It has been fun and useful to go back and forth about leadership experiences.

GB– Preceptors can be big influences in life. I always send them birthday cards.

Why is it important for students to be involved in professional activities?

PW- Advocacy and becoming involved with a CO such as a chapter or special interest group is a great path for leadership development, networking, and engagement. Student leadership is an important part of starting your career as PA. You can walk away with important tips.

JB– Student leadership gives you context and helps you understand where you are in the health arena. PAs are leaders now and in the future. It is super important to step up and be a leader within your hospital, on committees, a CO, or in the community.

GB– You need to be in the know about what’s going on nationally and locally. Getting involved in AAPA as a student will inspire you to stay involved later. It shows physicians that you are a go-getter when they look at your resume.

How can students help Constituent Organizations?
PW– In Colorado, we have a student affairs committee represented by each of the four PA programs in the state. We have a student director who sits on our board which gives students a voice and a vote. We also engage students who are not on that committee. We do a Challenge Bowl competition for the state that is really fun and gets students ready for the AAPA National Medical Challenge Bowl. Students also do a silent auction and raise money for different charities.

JB– The LBGT Caucus has scholarships that go to two or three students. It’s a competitive process involving video interviews. We help students go to conference where they help implement social media or recommend curriculum. Their involvement at conference is a great jumping off point; lots end up joining our board. Find out about students’ interests and get them plugged in.

JS–  I was a public policy undergrad and I applied for a position with AAPA, which led to joining the AAPA Governance Commission. Just put yourself out there. At my PA school, I was in the inaugural class and I didn’t have anyone to follow. I joined a legislative committee and became an AOR rep and met people at conference. Consider your options, don’t short-change yourself, and go for it!

GB– Everyone has different talents, whether it is on a conference, policy, or diversity committee. Students are passionate and come out for two FAPA conferences each year including this summer’s Olympic games on the beach. There is also a big draw to participate in legislative activities and we usually have at least 10 to 20 students with us at the state capitol. Students make a difference.

How did it build your leadership skills to participate in student networking during and after school?
JS– I attended AAPA 2017 in Las Vegas and got exposed to programs in other states. Not just my class but every other PA school as well. I have kept in touch with many of those people.

PW– It allows you to be in similar company and gives you support down the road. There is so much more to this PA world that I never knew about until I was in the right room. Several years after graduation, former Student Academy leaders got together and talked about what we wish we had known. At that meeting we decided to form a special interest group for early career PAs. AAPA had same thought.

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Eileen Denne is director of Corporate Communications at AAPA. Contact her at [email protected]