Distinguished Fellow Julie Theriault Strengthens PA Profession

PA Gives Time and Effort to Help All PAs Succeed

December 14, 2021

By Jennifer Walker

Have you seen the DFAAPA credential after a colleague’s name and wondered what it meant? This credential is an honor given to AAPA’s Distinguished Fellows, PAs who are dedicated to advancing the profession through volunteer work, advocacy, mentoring, education, and more. As of August 2021, AAPA has recognized 1,009 PAs as Distinguished Fellows.

PAs who want to apply for this designation need to submit an application along with documentation of achievements and participate in an interview. After acceptance, they then commit to an area of impact in which they plan to continue to be involved in advancing the PA profession.

PA Julie Theriault has held a variety of volunteer positions from president of the California Academy of PAs to director of constituent relations, as well as president, for AAPA.

To give examples of what is possible through making this commitment, AAPA talked to three PAs—Tara Bruner, MHS, PA-C, DFAAPA; Julie Theriault, PA-C, DFAAPA, and Rick Rohrs, PA-C, DFAAPA—about how they are making lasting impacts on the profession locally, nationally, and internationally. This is the second in the series of articles and highlights Theriault.

Strengthening the PA Profession as a Whole
PA Julie Theriault’s most memorable impact on the PA profession as a volunteer came in the mid-90s, when PAs in California were not allowed to write prescriptions. They could have physicians sign the prescription forms or they could call in prescriptions, but both of these methods took valuable time and, in the case of the called-in prescriptions, led to increased errors.

At the time, the Medical Board of California said that “prescribing” medications was a responsibility reserved for physicians. The California Academy of PAs (CAPA) had been working for years to change this by advocating for prescription legislation for PAs in the state. So when Theriault was elected president of CAPA, she focused on working with her colleagues to get this legislation passed.

Everything came together one night when Theriault jolted awake at 2:00 a.m. with an idea: PAs were already transmitting prescriptions by phone, so maybe they could also transmit them in writing. By using the word “transmit,” they could avoid the term “prescribe” altogether. Later, she presented the idea to the Medical Board of California, which agreed that PAs could transmit prescriptions in writing.

“It was a semantic change, but it was a big deal and just opened up tons of freedom for PAs,” says Theriault, who began her career in family medicine as the first PA with Sacramento Sierra Medical Group (SSMG), a team of 35 physicians, in 1987. “It was a proud moment when my name was on that prescription pad.”

Theriault’s involvement in volunteer work also began in 1987, the same year she graduated from the PA program at the University of California, Davis. This is when she first became involved with CAPA when she ran for the student director-at-large position and won.

PA Julie Theriault (center) credits her interest in volunteer and advocacy work in part to being the oldest of nine kids, which may explain her desire to help those around her.

Oldest of nine wants to help others
Asked why she got involved as a volunteer so early in her career, Theriault says she’s the oldest of nine kids, which may explain her desire to help those around her, and she’s a two-time ESFJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which shows that her personality is suited for policy work. But most importantly, Theriault saw the PA profession as a young one at the time, and she wanted to be involved with strengthening it and helping it grow.

“The better we are [as PAs], the more we can do for our patients and the more we can continue to promote that team approach in healthcare, which I think is the only way to go,” says Theriault, who continued to take on bigger roles with CAPA, including director-at-large, secretary, and vice president, before becoming president in 1994-95.

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In 1995, Theriault also began to get involved on the national level. She was Chief Delegate for the State of California on AAPA’s House of Delegates, a body that would also elect Theriault to the AAPA nominating committee.

Later, Theriault was appointed as AAPA’s director of constituent relations. In this role, she interacted with many of AAPA’s constituencies, from state PA organizations to special interest groups. And when AAPA staff had the idea to start a Peer-to-Peer program, Theriault got the initiative off the ground and, along with her committee, worked with several of the constituency groups to help build their boards and develop their visions for future growth.

PA Julie Theriault, pictured here reading to school children.

AAPA leadership focus on health literacy
Theriault went on to serve on AAPA’s Board of Directors for seven years and then as AAPA president from 2004-05. For her project as president, she focused on health literacy among elementary school students. PA volunteers would collect books about topics like dental health and nutrition, read those books at various elementary schools, and then leave the books for the kids to take home. Theriault wanted the kids to learn about good nutrition and proper hygiene and that they can ask questions to their health care providers to make sure they understand everything. The program continues today.

“There’s some terrible things that have happened to people because they don’t understand about their health, such as the importance of adhering to medication regimes,” says Theriault, who practiced at SSMG, which later became Sutter Medical Group, throughout her entire PA career until her retirement in May 2021. “So I always thought if you start teaching kids about health topics, that will correlate into better health literacy as they get older.”

Because of Theriault’s steadfast commitment to the PA profession, she was presented with the Distinguished Fellows designation. Her advice for other PAs who want to get more involved is to start small. “Spend an hour or two [volunteering] on a Saturday and working alongside your colleagues,” she says. “If you love this profession and love what we do for patients, this is a great way to start getting involved.”

Jennifer Walker is a freelance writer in Baltimore, MD. Contact Jennifer at [email protected].

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AAPA’s Distinguished Fellows: How to Apply and Meet the Honorees
Distinguished Fellows Share Motivations for AAPA Recognition
PA Susann Galloway: Determined, Devoted, and Distinguished

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