Shaping the culture and impact of OHSU

PA Week 2020

Recognizing the contributions of physician assistants during PA Week

The OHSU School of Medicine joins in recognizing National Physician Assistant Week, Oct. 6-10, celebrating the growth and contributions of physician assistants since the profession’s founding in 1967.

“Amid a momentously challenging year, our PAs have displayed the leadership, compassion and advocacy that are defining traits of their profession,” said OHSU School of Medicine Dean Sharon Anderson. “I am proud of and grateful for the ways they shape the culture and impact of our university and advance our approach to patient care to serve all our communities.”

The PA profession emerged in response to increasing demands to expand the ranks of and access to health care providers after World War II.  Now the profession counts more than 140,000 PAs across the country who are responsible for more than 8 million patient visits a week. They conduct physical exams, order and interpret tests, perform procedures, diagnose illnesses, develop treatment plans, prescribe medications and provide patient education and counseling and are a key part of interdisciplinary health care teams in nearly every medical specialty.  

A growing presence at OHSU

OHSU is home to 191 physician assistants. Of them, 175 are members of the OHSU Practice Plan, or 8 percent of the 2,187 OPP members. Physician assistants make up 31 percent of the advanced practice providers in the OHSU Practice Plan. APPs also include advanced nurse practitioners of all types, certified registered nurse anesthetists, social workers, dieticians and other licensed clinicians.

Juliana Bernstein, M.P.A.S., PA-C, who last year became co-chair of the OPP’s Advanced Practice Providers Lead Council, this year was promoted to associate professor in general internal medicine and geriatrics in the OHSU School of Medicine, Department of Medicine. At the Sept. 23 School of Medicine Faculty Promotion and Award Ceremony, Bernstein shared her pride in representing APPs.

“This is a group who together are relative newcomers to the long academic tradition of faculty rank and promotion,” Bernstein said. “Certainly, at times last year, I wavered in choosing whether or not to go up. At the end of the day, it was the 500 APPs behind me that persuaded me.  I like to think that this promotion celebrates not just my own work but the present and future contributions of all of our advanced practice providers.”

Students and faculty step up

The OHSU Physician Assistant Program was established in 1995 to prepare physician assistants to provide primary care services to rural and urban medically underserved communities. The program graduated its first class in September 1997. 

The OHSU PA Program ranked 10th among graduate-level physician assistant programs in the nation in the 2019 U.S. News and World Report Best Graduate School rankings.  The program’s graduates have achieved a 98 percent first-time pass rate on the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) over the last five years. Students enter with prior health care experience to endure the rigorous, fast-paced, 26-month program.

PA students and faculty at OHSU stepped up in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police May 25 and OHSU’s commitment to become an anti-racist institution.

Samuel Rogers, PA-C, Knight Cardiovascular Institute, wrote a powerful message to OHSU President Jacobs, an excerpt from which was published with his permission in the OHSU Now Week in Review, helping to construct the case for change:

The collective grief, sorrow, and pain is a weight I carry with me every day

“Like so many black and brown people I have been devastated by the most recent acts of horrific, life-ending, violence against people of color. The collective grief, sorrow, and pain is a weight I carry with me every day. Oregon has a dark history of racism that, at its best, is felt as an undercurrent of pain and tension, and at its worst, actively contributes to violence against black and brown people. When these all too frequent acts of violence occur throughout the country, black Oregonians feel it deeply…

OHSU is a beacon of hope. Its commitment to diversity has been a unique reprieve. I challenge OHSU take the next step, which includes a public statement, financial support, and a commitment to addressing violence against people of color, specifically black people, as the public health crisis that it is. Healthcare disparities are among the evidence of inequity in the system. We have the power to change this,” Rogers wrote.

The faculty and leaders of the PA program issued a statement on anti-racism and, under the leadership of PA Program Director Christopher Sim, D.Sc., PA-C, DFAAPA, committed to driving forward social change.

“At OHSU, we view our PA Program and our faculty as key drivers of social justice and proactive change in medicine,” said Dr. Sim. “It is our goal to form the kinds of healthcare teams that can meet the needs of all of our communities.”

Organizing for change

Students took a lead role in educating themselves, their classmates, faculty and staff.

Amanpreet Kaur, PA Class of 2021, founded Physician Assistant Diversity in Medicine to advocate for more diversity in the PA profession while addressing and recognizing diversity, race, culture, inclusion and access in the medical community. She was a lead organizer of the OHSU Student Black Lives Matter March and joined other students to create the Anti-Racism 101 Series to combat racism, promote ally-ship, and provide long-term strategies for dismantling systemic racism.  

Grace Chang, PA Class of 2020, kept right on contributing even the day after her class graduated Sept. 2. As diversity and inclusion class representative, she teamed up that next morning with OHSU Center for Diversity and Inclusion unconscious bias trainers to put on a session for students on anti-racist practices in clinical settings.

The Class of 2020 collaborated on a class message, read by Class President Kelsey Khaw at graduation, which read, in part:

“We expected a hectic, unpredictable couple of years, and we were told from the beginning to be flexible. But we never expected to graduate in the midst of a pandemic and an international movement for Black lives. These events have led us to reflect on what it means to be physician assistants. We, as a collective, firmly believe Black Lives Matter. We assert that anti-racism should be the standard of care and a key principle for us all…We commit to continue the work of dismantling systemic racism, starting with healthcare disparities. As PAs, we pledge to uphold the OHSU PA program mission to serve marginalized and medically underserved patients within our respective communities.”

In June, the program was proud to welcome the Class of 2022. Among 40 enrolled students:

  • 29 (72.5 percent) identified as female
  • 11 (27.5 percent) identified as male 
  • 25 (62.5 percent) identified as Oregon or Oregon heritage 
  • 10 (25 percent) identified with a racial or ethnic group underrepresented in medicine
  • 9 (22.5 percent) are from an isolated rural community or small town

Nominate a PA!

Celebrate National PA Week by nominating an OHSU physician assistant for the second annual OHSU PA of the Year Award. Nominations due by Nov. 6 to Emily Jacobsen, PA-C, assistant profession of family medicine, at jacobsee@ohsu.edu .

Please include your and the nominee’s name and department and specific examples of how this PA has contributed to the profession, patient care, service or leadership in education or research and/or other accolades. We will contact the PA to obtain their acceptance and CV. We will not divulge the names of nominators, but you are free to inform the individual yourself.