Increasing Representation and Improving Outcomes

By Grace Collins '22, October 5, 2022

PA student Jordan Beckley selected for prestigious DEI summit.

For students in Ithaca College’s Physician Assistant Studies program, one of the most important components of their education, aside from mastering clinical skills and medical terminology, is learning to be a practitioner committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).  

In September, Jordan Beckley ’19, MA-PAS ’23, took that mission to the next level when she was selected to represent IC at the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) REPRESENT! Summit.  

The REPRESENT! Summit was a two-day event held in Atlanta, where invited guests convened for discussions, panels, and poster presentations about diversifying the PA workforce, promoting inclusivity within PA communities, and addressing gaps in health-care equity to improve patient outcomes.  

The objectives of the summit mirror the guiding tenets of the IC PA program, particularly creating inclusive environments for learners and patients alike, and addressing implicit biases to provide better patient care. Since its inception in 2021, the program has taken several steps to integrate DEI initiatives into both the PA curriculum and the co-curricular opportunities available to learners.  

Building a Foundation

One such example is the JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) committee, a student-led group within the PA cohort that holds bi-monthly learning sessions for students centered around different DEI topics, ranging from macro and microaggressions to allyship. Students receive a video, article, or podcast to review before the session, and then convene to reflect and discuss with one another. Beckley serves as the co-chair of the committee. 

“This is something that we wanted to do, outside of class time, for learners who may have never been in a rural area, or never been in contact with a person of color, or don’t know too much about the LGBTQIA+ community. We really wanted to give them a safe space to learn about this material before going to work with patients,” said Beckley.  “As we go into clinicals, we'll be working with a variety of different patients and seeing a multitude of different backgrounds, cultures and religions. We wanted to implement some type of educational forum where we can learn in-house so then once we go into clinical rotations, we’ll have background knowledge that we can continue to grow from.” 

“If we don't understand justice, equity, diversity and inclusion as we’re engaging with our patients and their caregivers, we are not going to meet all their needs. We created the JEDI committee in order to be better practitioners and to be positioned to be inclusive of all our patients.” 

Susan Salahshor, assistant professor and director of the physician assistant program

Susan Salahshor, assistant professor and director of the physician assistant program, established the JEDI committee to give learners a safe space to work to overcome implicit bias, explore new perspectives, and expand the equity framework that supports the PA program.  

“From a programmatic standpoint, we have such a strong focus on diversity, equity and inclusion because it directly relates to how we take care of our patients and create a safe environment for patient care, which leads to positive outcomes,” said Salahshor. “If we don't understand justice, equity, diversity and inclusion as we’re engaging with our patients and their caregivers, we are not going to meet all their needs. We created the JEDI committee in order to be better practitioners and to be positioned to be inclusive of all our patients.” 

After learning from instructors about the REPRESENT! Summit, Beckley says she was intrigued by the opportunity to attend and further her involvement in promoting PA DEI initiatives and decided to apply. Following a competitive application process, she was one of just 11 PA students nationwide selected by the NCCPA for an all-expenses-paid trip to Atlanta to attend the summit. 

“I am one of the minorities in medicine, so it was really nice to be able to go and have a voice and be around people who are dealing with the same inequalities that I’m dealing with and have the same concerns about the PA profession and PA education that I have,” said Beckley.  

Making an Impact

The summit also served as an opportunity for Beckley and Salahshor to amplify IC’s strategic mission to promote DEI within the PA profession. The duo presented a poster, titled “One PA Program’s Process to Mitigate Unconscious Bias,” that detailed the research and work being done by the JEDI committee, as well as the inclusive teaching practices being deployed throughout the curriculum.  

Jordan Beckley

Beckley presents her poster at the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) REPRESENT! Summit.  

This topic is particularly relevant now, as national conversations are taking place about the importance of health-care workers intentionally identifying and working through their unconscious biases, to provide a consistent standard of care and prevent incidents of bias from impacting patient treatment.  

“Each and every one of us, regardless of what we look like or how we identify, have biases,” said Salahshor. “Our goal is for our PA learners to identify those biases and work to mitigate them. That allows us as providers to be more self-reflective in the decisions we make when we're taking care of patients, and to be more intentional about the ongoing professional development we do, so we can always make sure we're giving our patients the best care with the best possible outcome.” 

Beckley was also able to take the lessons she learned from panelists, presenters, and other attendees at the REPRESENT! Summit and share them with her classmates back on South Hill, including insights for getting rid of the stigma around acknowledging implicit bias and tools for speaking up when witnessing an incidence of unconscious bias on a clinical rotation. 

“A big takeaway for me was that, sometimes we can feel like we're just students and no one will listen to us, but in reality, people want to hear our voice,” she said. “It’s important to have confidence to speak up whenever we see something that could indicate implicit bias, and to be willing to be bold and interrupt that conversation in a respectful way, then use it as a learning tool.” 

Ithaca College Roots

Beckley, who received her BS in health sciences from Ithaca College in 2019, spoke to the impact that having a community at the college has had on her journey through the PA program.  

“PA school can be hard, so I’m grateful to have a lot of connections here at IC and to play a role within communities like the Diverse Emerging Scholars program and Sister2Sister/Brothers for Brothers. It’s nice to be back as an alumna, and to know I have that support from a foundational community,” she said.  

“From day one, IC leadership was thinking about what they could do to diversity PA education and the PA profession. They were strategic and intentional about the materials we receive and the connections that we make. I've made connections with community leaders of color at IC and within the Cayuga Health System, and that has really helped in the realm of adding diversity to our program. We have connections with other PA schools that we're trying to partner with to recruit and retain diverse candidates as well. It's been a really great opportunity.” 

Jordan Beckley ’19, MA-PAS ’23

Beckley also commented on what it means to be a part of a program that is intentionally working to recruit diverse cohorts of learners and promote DEI values within the PA curriculum. Nationally, physician assistants are currently predominantly white and female, but through initiatives like the JEDI Committee, the tide is slowly starting to turn.  

“From day one, IC leadership was thinking about what they could do to diversity PA education and the PA profession. They were strategic and intentional about the materials we receive and the connections that we make,” Beckley said. “I've made connections with community leaders of color at IC and within the Cayuga Health System, and that has really helped in the realm of adding diversity to our program. We have connections with other PA schools that we're trying to partner with to recruit and retain diverse candidates as well. It's been a really great opportunity.” 

Going forward, Beckley and Salahshor both hope to continue to grow and build on DEI values within the PA program, and to see an increase in the prevalence of minorities starting careers within the industry as a whole.  

“I'm very proud of the leadership shown by Jordan and the JEDI committee overall by taking on the responsibility to provide that education for their classmates, and for setting the foundation of how we as the PA program, and within health-care professions as a whole, can really work together to address our biases, so we can have better patient outcomes,” Salahshor said.