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Physician Assistant Minority Alliance (PAMA) Paves the Way for Inclusion in Health Care Education

February 15, 2023

PAMA logo with light blue background, outline of a raised fist, and 'PAMA' written acrossDid you know that only 3 percent of physician assistants in the United States identify as Black or African American? This is the gap that Megan Schneider, assistant clinical professor and curriculum coordinator in the Physician Assistant department (PA), and Lena Ward, a PA clinical instructor, set out to address when they founded PAMA, the Physician Assistant Minority Alliance, in 2019.

An alumni-led organization, PAMA aims “to improve academic success, decrease attrition rates and provide support to minority students throughout their didactic and clinical years...PAMA’s core values [are] advocacy, commitment and compassion towards minority students.”

Lena Ward stands in PA white coat and graduation stole in front of Philadelphia's City HallPAMA was formed in response to a growing national trend that Black and African American students were leaving their PA programs at a higher rate than their peers. Recent studies have demonstrated that patient health care outcomes are greatly improved when patients see their identities reflected in their health care providers. Yet, as this need for culturally aware providers increases, students of color are struggling to complete PA programs due to systemic inequities and an urgent need for inclusion-informed student support. This is where PAMA steps in.

Since 2019, the alliance has held monthly check-ins with current CNHP students, organized mental health meditation sessions and led practice oral exam sessions with seasoned CNHP PA alumni mentors. The alumni network is comprised of dedicated CNHP alums who are current PAs with knowledge and experience in CNHP’s rigorous program.

“During our first year, we focused on emotional support,” shares Ward. “During our second, we moved towards academic support and implemented a variety of study sessions to help students over common obstacles in the curriculum.”

Alfayo Michira stands outside in PA white coat and sunglasses, smilingWard and others have seen direct results from the work of the alliance in supporting students and decreasing attrition rates at CNHP. In addition to their work on campus, PAMA has extended their reach into the Philadelphia community by presenting about the PA profession at Simon Gratz High School.

“A lot of people know that you could become a doctor or a nurse,” Ward explained. “But they don’t always know about PAs. It was great to share more information about this profession with the high school students and let them know that this is an option for them.”

While PAMA is living its mission statement of improving academic success for minority students, their goals for the alliance go farther.

“The immediate goal of PAMA is to support students here and now and get them out in the field, working as PAs,” Ward shared. “Beyond that, our goal is to break down existing structures that are limiting student success and to rebuild stronger, more inclusive programs so that groups like PAMA don’t need to exist for all students to succeed.”

Elizabeth Lee pictured in Air Force uniform, smilingAs PAMA looks to the future, they plan to establish more informal meetings between students and alumni to build relationships, as well as continuing their academic support. Ward says that she is grateful to PAMA for creating an inclusive space for minority students, but she dreams of a day when the alliance will no longer be needed.

“PAMA exists because it must, in order to improve student outcomes. But I want real change so that these outcomes can be a result of the program itself, rather than an intervention program,” Ward clarifies. “In a sense, I want to run myself out of business.”

PAMA alumni members pictured (in order): Lena Ward, MHS, PA-C, clinical instructor; Alfayo Michira, PA-C, MHS, family medicine at Golden Valley Health Center, CNHP Class of 2019; Elizabeth Lee, PA-C, MHS, family medicine at Robins Air Force Base Hospital, CNHP Class of 2021

Written by Izzy López