Adjunct Associate Professor of Physician Assistant (PA) Studies Rachel A. Carlson, Ed.D., PA-C, DFAAPA, was named the Virginia PA of the Year by Virginia Academy of Physician Assistants(VAPA) at its state conference in July in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
“This is a huge honor and was related to the substantive work Rachel had completed through advocacy and advancement of the PA profession as the director of advanced practice clinicians at Valley Health,” said Assistant Professor of Physician Assistant Studies Erika R. Francis, MSPAS, PA-C.
Dr. Carlson also served as director of Shenandoah’s PA program from 2012 to 2016, and has been on the faculty since 2002. The university’s PA program is among the Top 20 in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report.
An honor and an affirmation
“This honor was extremely humbling and at the same time affirming,” Carlson said. “My mother pushed me when I was younger to go to school and find something I was passionate about. I remember how upset she was when I told her I was going to go to PA school instead of medical school, and how we were able to talk about this a few years ago about this being the right decision for me and look at all of the opportunities granted me by choosing this path. We came from very meager means, and I know that I couldn’t have made it to where I am today without people supporting me and nurturing me along the way and working extremely hard. Serving my vocation has been my way of paying it forward. I have been blessed with an extremely supportive husband, mother, and children; supervisors at all three of my full-time positions during my career as a PA have encouraged my personal and professional growth, and the colleagues that I have worked with at each place have also been very supportive. Having the opportunity to serve locally, regionally, and nationally for PA organizations has afforded me the ability to create lifelong mentors and relationships. These relationships have nurtured me and allowed me to acquire knowledge to share with the PA students and PA colleagues at Shenandoah and around the country.”
“Dr. Rachel Carlson is most deserving of the Virginia Academy of Physician Assistants’ 2018 PA of the Year honor,” said Shenandoah Distinguished Professor and Director of Physician Assistant Studies Anthony A. Miller, M.Ed., PA-C, who led the program from 2000 to 2012, and returned to lead it again in 2016. “I had the pleasure of hiring Rachel as one of our earliest faculty members in the Shenandoah PA Program. She was one of my former students at the Medical College of Ohio (now University of Toledo), and I knew that she would eventually become an excellent teacher and strong leader for the PA profession. In her short career so far, she has made significant contributions to Shenandoah University, its PA students, the PAs in the Commonwealth of Virginia and in the nation.” Miller also presented “Physician Assistant Doctorate: A Ticket to Autonomy?” at the VAPA conference.
Teaching from experience, and being a resource
Teaching remains an integral part of Carlson’s life, even though it is no longer her full-time vocation.
“Teaching (or facilitating the acquisition of knowledge) is an honor and a challenge. There is the adage that ‘those who can’t, teach….’ I think that is extremely inaccurate of any teacher. If you ‘can’t,’ then you have no credibility in the classroom, especially in graduate professional education. Teaching is a service to our society and the future of any profession. Having the opportunity to participate in the learning process with students is engaging and enriching to my career, and, hopefully, I have bestowed my knowledge and passion along to students. As an employer of PAs, I think it is extremely important to have a place in their learning. My understanding of the needs of the employment marketplace allows our program’s graduates to have the opportunity to have some ‘inside’ knowledge. I have always availed myself to be a resource for them during their employment process, whether it is for the first job or the third. Shenandoah has been special because of its small class sizes, which allow professors to develop long-term relationships with the students, especially as they become professionals. No student is just a number here and I am extremely proud of the PAs we have graduated over the years,” said Carlson, who, aside from being named PA of the Year at the conference, also gave a self-assessment talk there, focusing on the Physician Assistant National Recertification Exam.
The future of the PA profession
Francis, with fellow assistant professors of physician assistant studies Morgan Nowak, M.S., PA-C, and Stephanie Bernard, M.M.Sc., PA-C, R.D., presented at the conference on the topic “Opportunities Abound: Future PAs Need You!”
Those future PAs are going to enter an evolving field. “The next couple of years is going to tell us a lot about the future of the profession,” Carlson said. “As healthcare institutions increase their hiring rates of PAs (and NPs) to serve the growing needs of patients in this country, the rigor of PA programs and the flexibility of the profession will be challenged to fulfill the needs. PAs will be challenged to step up and advocate for their profession, whether through naming conventions, defined entrustable professional activities for PAs, postgraduate clinical education, clinical doctorates, or decreased regulatory red tape to ensure equal access to high quality care for patients that PAs can provide.”
Two current PA students, Adriana Posadas ’18 and Gabriella Romero ’18, attended the conference, as did alumni Alix Gilbert ‘10, Sara Brendle ’13, K.C. Barney ’17 and Amy Moorhead ’15. Additionally, the current VAPA treasurer is Jessica Gandhi ’13, MSPAS, PA-C, who is also an adjunct professor in Shenandoah’s PA program.