September 21, 2021
PA Foundation Fellowship Recognizes PAs Passionate about Primary Care with $2,500 Award
August 25, 2021
Are you a PA who’s passionate about primary care and dedicated to mentoring the next generation of providers? Do you work with underserved populations? Or, do you know a PA who fits this description? Apply or nominate someone for the PA Foundation’s William H. Marquardt Community Health Access Fellowship! This annual fellowship award aims to benefit PAs serving in mentoring and/or precepting roles who are dedicated to promoting accessible primary and preventive healthcare amongst underserved populations.
Cynthia Bunde, MPAS, PA-C, and Erin Fitzpatrick Lepp, MMSc, PA-C, are the Foundation’s 2020 William H. Marquardt Community Health Access Fellows. They share their views on the rewards of practicing in primary care, the importance of mentors and preceptors, and how they have been able to combine these guiding principles – and more – during their PA careers.
The Rewards of Primary Care
Bunde: Throughout my PA career, I have always tried to consider and treat the whole person. Even when practicing specialty medicine, I have brought all my skills and knowledge to the table. I worked first in psychiatry, then women’s health. As a PA in women’s health, I was fortunate to be in a position to serve as a primary care provider for many women. I have been humbled by the trust placed in me. With my previous experience in psychiatry and mental health, other clinic providers would refer patients who were suffering from depression or anxiety to me. I was able to bridge the gap between specialty medicine and primary care, which helped patients remain in a known clinic and get quick access to mental healthcare in a community in which specialty referrals can take months. I believe that the three most important parts of primary care are access, timeliness, and coordinated care, and that PAs are uniquely positioned to make positive inroads in all three areas. I find it very rewarding.
Lepp: I have spent most of my career working in PA education while also maintaining a part-time faculty practice or volunteering in primary care. I currently volunteer at a free clinic that operates as part of a unique charitable care model that was launched several years ago by the state of Georgia as a way to increase primary care to the uninsured and underinsured. I work on a team with a collaborating physician and a registered nurse. Known as the Georgia Volunteers in Healthcare Program (GVHCP), I volunteer most Saturdays at the Grace Village Medical Clinic, where I provide primary care and chronic disease management primarily to refugee and immigrant patients who have been resettled in the small city of Clarkston, Georgia, just a short distance from downtown Atlanta. The work – like all of my experience in primary care – is rewarding and meaningful.
The Importance of Mentors and Preceptors
Bunde: I have been heavily influenced in my career by meaningful mentors. Dr. Rande Short, a family practice physician and one of my favorite preceptors as a PA student, impacts my life to this day. Dr. Short showed me how to educate patients, families, and fellow practitioners, and inspired my love of primary care. Given my love of primary care, the passion I have for community health, and my desire to mentor and precept students, I am now very fortunate to have my dream job. I teach PA students at Idaho State University and work at the Pocatello Free Clinic where I started my medical experience. I precept clinical PA students at the clinic, and I can instill real-life lessons on healthcare barriers and how to overcome them, health literacy, reducing disparities, and improving access to care. I hope that by training students at places such as the Pocatello Free Clinic, they will see the community needs and the personal fulfillment involved in caring for underserved populations. I hope they will seek out ways to do similar work in their future communities and practices. Like the lessons of my own mentors and preceptors, I hope the lessons I teach will persist in the next generation of providers.
Lepp: I was inspired to become a servant leader, primary care PA, and PA educator by my PA faculty mentor and program director, Virginia “Ginna” Joslin, during my time at the Emory PA Program, first as a student and then as a junior faculty member. Even after Ginna’s retirement from academics in 2011, her example of leading others to become patient advocates and agents of change within the community and the PA profession had a lasting impression on me. With her encouragement, I returned to PA education in 2012 after taking several years off from both clinical practice and university life to raise my growing family. She was an exceptionally important person in my life, at a number of pivotal stages.
Combining Primary Care, Community Need, and Servant Leadership
Bunde: Even before I became a PA, my heart was captured at the Pocatello Free Clinic in Pocatello, Idaho. I loved playing even a small role in helping grateful folks in need, taking vitals and assisting volunteer providers, and being part of a team dedicated to a worthy mission. Now, as a seasoned PA with many experiences under my belt, I am back at that same clinic, helping lead the team. The clinic did move locations. The team has changed many times. The patients we serve come and go. But the mission and the need remain the same – and I remain committed to primary care and the community.
In my current roles, I provide direct primary care services to those who present for care, while also working with my team to analyze community needs and seek out ways to bring more services to those who need them. Patients who present for problem-based care are at risk of missing preventive opportunities and often do not recognize the ill effects of undiagnosed hypertension, diabetes, etc. We must bring the care and education to them. It is genuinely inspiring and satisfying to see what a group of caring, motivated individuals can do for our community as a unified team.
Lepp: My service and scholarship have informed my teaching since joining the faculty at the Mercer University College of Health Professions’ PA Program. I work collaboratively with faculty colleagues from our Physical Therapy, Public Health, Clinical Psychology, Athletic Training, Pharmacy, Nursing, and School of Medicine programs to develop opportunities for interprofessional education (IPE) and service for students across the Mercer Health Sciences Center. I am energized to oversee our combined degree program (PA-MPH) students’ efforts to design, implement, and evaluate community health initiatives aimed at improving nutrition and diabetes care through collaboration with the GVHCP and State Office of Rural Health. I am directly applying the knowledge and skills I am learning as a PA Foundation Nutrition Outreach Fellow as I work to design clinical service-learning opportunities that will enable my students to experience firsthand the impact they can make as PAs in primary care. I began my doctoral studies in January with a focus on public and community health, as I have dedicated my career to these issues. I hope to inspire PA students to dedicate themselves to improving community health through interprofessional collaboration and service.
If you, like Cynthia Bunde and Erin Fitzpatrick Lepp, are dedicated to promoting accessible primary and preventive healthcare amongst underserved populations, consider applying for the 2021 William H. Marquardt Community Health Access Fellowship. In addition to self-nominations, nominations by individuals seeking to honor or recognize preceptors or mentors are also accepted. Find out more about the program and apply today!