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Building a Diverse Population of Drexel PA Students

September 23, 2015

Juanita Gardner, MPH, PA-C, clinical assistant professor in the Physician Assistant (PA) Department at Drexel University, is leading an initiative to diversify the student body within the department. With changes in policy that make health care more accessible, like the Affordable Care Act, Gardner is taking action to ensure that future PAs represent the patient populations they will one day treat.

Gardner is spearheading a recruitment process that embraces diversity and inclusion. “We are trying to make ourselves visible at different types of events, both within the local community and outside of the community, including attending health fairs or career fairs geared toward pre-health students,” she said.

The goal is to raise awareness about the PA profession and recruit students from a variety of backgrounds, including national origin, language, race, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, veteran status and family structures to name a few.

 “Our program is geared toward working with underserved communities,” said Gardner. “And a lot of communities that are underserved are usually the groups that fit the definition of being diverse. We feel that it is important for our student population to represent the populations and communities which we hope they will one day practice in.”

To achieve this goal, Gardner has used some traditional and non-traditional strategies. “We partner with the Physical Therapy Program and recruit at historically black colleges and universities and in communities where we may find students that represent a variety of backgrounds,” she said. “Once a year we visit Spellman College, Clark University, Delaware State, Rutgers University and Morehouse College for their health care and career-related events. We discuss our program offerings and try to interest students in the PA profession.”

Additionally, Puentes Hacia el Futruro Elementary and Middle School, Belmont Academy Charter School, Wissahickon Elementary School, Mercy Vocational High School and Allen M. Stearne Elementary School have partnered with the Drexel University Physician Assistant Program to introduce their students to careers in health care. The partnership aims to provide a pipeline of future health care providers from diverse communities.

Building diversity continues through the application review process, and requires close examination of student records. Attracting both a non-traditional and diverse student body means taking into account circumstances that may have impacted students’ GPAs, learning experiences and other aspects of their applications.

This extra attention, though, has significantly enhanced PA students’ experience. “Some of our students have not been exposed to populations, cultures, or other parts of society. So I think with our program working toward increasing diversity, it not only enriches the student as a person, but also helps to prepare them to be able to go out and treat and help patients that are different than they are. In doing so, it has given students a broader perspective of a world outside their own and exposed them to the needs of the patients they may be seeing and how to effectively address those needs.”