June 2, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 86°F


Grad students represent IC PA program at national conference

Graduate students Brittny Dawkins and Nour Safa are the first students from Ithaca College  — and two of 25 students across the United States — to represent the college on the American Academy of Physician Associates’ House of Delegates.

Dawkins and Safa will be attending the AAPA Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, from May 20 to 24, and the HOD meeting from May 19 to 21. The two are a part of the Student Academy and were elected by the AAPA in July 2022 to be student delegates to the HOD. They said they will be voting on important policies for the PA community, like accessibility in testing and pre-PA mentorship for future PAs of color.

Dawkins and Safa are a part of the inaugural cohort of the college’s Master of Science in PA program at the college, which was established in Spring 2021. Safa said that being the first delegates from the college makes attending the conference more special.

“I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be able to represent our program, especially being a part of the inaugural class,” Safa said. “We’re still students at the end of the day and we’re continuously growing and there’s a lot for us to learn. So, I think this is a great learning opportunity.”

The AAPA is the professional society for physician assistants across the U.S. Within the AAPA, the HOD is a body that focuses on policy-making for the PA profession. The HOD is comprised of representatives of separate organizations that are affiliated with the AAPA and the Student Academy, which is a group of PA student representatives and leaders from across the nation. 

Dawkins said she and Safa applied to be student delegates because they were motivated to establish themselves as leaders in their profession. Dawkins said the application was extensive and she had to write two to three essays and prove good academic standing. 

“It’s a very robust process,” Dawkins said. “And it’s a really honorable position to be [in] just because the student delegation has a big say in if a policy will be voted yes or no because we are a really large constituent, so I’m really excited to go next month.”

Safa said she sees attending the meeting as an opportunity to help future students of the PA program at the college.

“Being in leadership positions within our cohort was something that also motivated us to do this because we wanted to further continue that advocacy for our cohort … and future cohorts as well,” Safa said. “[To] set that standard for everyone and set the tone for the rest of the program.”

Jordan Beckley, second-year graduate student at the college, served as the AAPA student diversity chair for the college’s chapter in 2022 and is now a member of the Leadership and Diversity Committee. As a member of the committee, she is arranging a leadership and diversity panel for the AAPA conference. Beckley said she feels passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion in the PA profession and said PAs should be able to provide their patients with high-quality services in all aspects.

“Being a future PA, we are going to see a wide variety of patients of different ethnicities, nationalities and backgrounds,” Beckley said. “My focus was on giving the learners in our program the opportunity to see different types of patients that they can come in contact with … [and] work with patients to be inclusive when it comes to medications and management of patients. … Because you want to make sure that all patients have the necessities that they need to have the best quality of life that they can have.”

The AAPA also has a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Resource Center and a DE&I Commission that aims to promote health equity among patients and representation in the PA profession. 

Savarah Aidun, northeast regional director of the Student Academy, said her role involves communicating with Student Academy Representatives about events and leadership activities. Aidun is a second-year PA student at Le Moyne College and said the fact that Dawkins and Safa were elected to the HOD is commendable.

“Not only [are they] representing the program, but representing all the students from the program, as well as students from other programs who might be in similar situations where they haven’t been to conferences on the national stage before and just showing them that it’s possible to do,” Aidun said.

Aidun said events like the AAPA conference and the opportunities provided there are important for the overall growth of PA students. 

“I think it’s really important to show other students what’s out there for leadership positions and how important advocacy is for the PA profession,” Aidun said. “I think it helps increase awareness and increase involvement among students.”

Susan Salahshor, assistant professor and program director of the Physician Assistant Program at Ithaca College, said via email that Dawkins, Safa and Beckley are demonstrating the values of the program through their involvement in the AAPA conference.

“Jordan, Brittny, and Nour are role models for the other learners in our program and the future learners coming to our program,” Salashor said via email. “The program emphasizes the importance of leading by example and advocating for our patients, the PA profession, and the communities we serve.”

In 2022, students at the conference presented on topics like loan repayments for medical students, the mental health of PA students and strategies to optimize clinical rotations. This years’ agenda is not yet available to the public. 

Salashor said the college’s PA program emphasizes the overall growth and development of students.

“The Ithaca College PA program learners are members of AAPA and [New York State Society of Physician Assistants] on arrival to our campus,” Salashor said via email  “They have lectures with representatives from local, state, and national organizations in their Leadership and Advocacy course.”

Safa said the college’s PA program encourages students to develop well-rounded skills that go beyond theoretical knowledge.

“I think the whole staff is really supportive in us truly fulfilling our true potential, especially in these roles,” Safa said. “They really want us to succeed and they really want us to continue to grow as students, as people, as advocates, as humans.”