2023 Outstanding Student Society Serves Their Community with Pride

Colorado Mesa University PA Students Stay Active in Their Community and Advocate for Change

May 19, 2023

By Alex Morse

Colorado Mesa University PA Program Class of 2024

Many students in the Colorado Mesa University (CMU) PA Program chose to become PAs to increase access to healthcare in underserved communities. CMU students contribute to advocacy efforts aimed at modernizing Colorado PA practice laws, participate in community events, and work to further diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Colorado Mesa University was selected as AAPA’s 2023 Outstanding Student Society.

The Outstanding Student Society is recognized for outstanding service to the profession in the areas of public education and advocacy; public service and outreach; promotion of diversity; and professional involvement.

“In partnership with the Colorado Academy of PAs, our students have been highly involved in advocacy efforts to change PA practice legislation aimed at increasing Colorado patients’ access to care,” CAPA Student Representative Taylor Teske, says. “Our training equips us to provide well-rounded care that views our patient as a whole, not just the chief complaint we see in front of us.”

As part of its PA program, CMU puts a heavy emphasis on preventative health education and wellness for PA students to later incorporate into their clinical practice. Students look forward to encouraging their future patients to become their own health advocates.

In partnership with the Western Colorado Community College Culinary Program, CMU students developed the Healthy Cooking Initiative to provide free cooking classes for the community. Each session educates participants about dietary approaches to preventing and maintaining specific diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, and best methods for meal preparation. The goal of this program is to remain an ongoing nutrition resource for those in the community with, or working to prevent, chronic disease.

CMU PA students participate in several initiatives and volunteer opportunities to keep the surrounding communities safe and healthy. Through the Harm Reduction Program, a partnership between CMU and Colorado Health Network, students lead needle-pickup events to provide a cleaner environment and reduce transmission of disease. Over the past year, members have worked with Colorado Health Network to increase local awareness of harm reduction resources.

At a Special Olympics event at CMU, 236 participants were provided over 800 screenings across seven different aspects of health. One group of PA student volunteers examined athletes alongside podiatrists to diagnose, treat, and refer athletes for diseases affecting their feet. Another screened participants for mental illnesses and provided strategies for anxiety and depression. Others conducted vision screenings and assisted in distributing prescriptions. And another group provided education on nutrition and sun protection, gathered vital signs, and performed DEXA scans. Together, they helped empower a population of athletes with special needs to optimize their health.

The CMU Diversity and Inclusion Committee facilitates a series of events throughout the year and distributes a monthly newsletter. Students have shared that the publications related to their current curriculum encourage them to recognize their biases and learn how to provide better care to minority populations. Events included a presentation on microaggressions in healthcare and the workplace, and CMU’s first privilege walk, where facilitators read questions representing a form of privilege and participants stepped forward if the question applied to them. Privilege walks have allowed students to share personal accounts about what privilege means to them and reflect as a group on how recognizing their biases can allow them to be advocates for future patients.

A group of CMU students participated in Colorado Mission of Mercy’s (COMOM) annual free dental clinic. Every year, the clinic provides dental care to more than 1,000 patients in the course of two days. Treatment is provided to any community member, regardless of insurance status, with absolutely no cost to patients. Care provided includes dental cleanings, fillings, root canals, extraction, and dentures. CMU PA students were involved in screening and triaging patients for any precluding health conditions that may be a contraindication for treatment, taking vital signs, and acting as patient liaisons.

Many of CMU students’ capstones are based in community service, such as pediatric obesity prevention program and healthy cooking classes for patients with chronic diseases.

“We are beyond proud to represent our program, Western Colorado, and the PA profession alike through CMU’s mission of being leaders through service in our community,” Teske says. “This award continues to motivate us to be ambassadors for our profession through our dedication to service.”

Alex Morse is AAPA’s Communications Associate. She can be reached at [email protected]

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