AAPA 2019 Publishing Award Winner Bettie Coplan, PA, Shares Insights on Conference and Future for PAs

Doximity: Hi Bettie. Thanks for agreeing to speak with me. Congratulations on earning this year’s Publishing Award! Can you please tell me about your current role and work?

Bettie Coplan: Of course. I am on full-time faculty at the Northern Arizona University PA program and am an adjunct for the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University. I also work at a respite center treating people experiencing homelessness. On top of all of that, I am also pursuing a PhD in Nursing/Health Innovation which has been an amazing interprofessional program.

Dox: Can you tell me about the publishing award you earned?

BC: Every year the AAPA recognizes an article that they think is important. I worked with researchers at AAPA and used AAPA data to look at job satisfaction, stressors, and burnout among PAs. It is the first paper to examine the PA profession globally. In general, my findings found that PAs are pretty happy at work. AAPA doesn’t use a validated tool to measure burnout so we used a proxy. They are burned out from too many bureaucratic tasks just like physicians are. More women than men quit their jobs. Women are more likely to be in Primary Care which may be a more stressful setting. Most importantly, my article has drawn more attention to PAs as part of the health care workforce. I’ve also participated with a group to do a systematic review for the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) on PA burnout. It is the first time the NAM has invited PAs to write a paper.

Dox: What were your highlights from this year's AAPA conference?

BC: As an educator I appreciated the National Medical Challenge Bowl. PA students from various programs are invited to compete in a medical quiz game and 104 different programs participated. It’s like a big sporting event and this year Penn State won. Another big topic was work AAPA is doing around a name change for the profession. The name 'physician assistant' causes confusion about what PAs do. The process started last year and there are no new suggestions yet. Another exciting development is Yale’s online PA program, which now has provisional accreditation and is the first online program of its kind. And OTP, of course - one of the components is for PAs to be regulated by PA boards rather than physician boards. The PA’s level of supervision should be at the practice level than the license level which would eliminate bureaucracy when hiring PAs. Topics such as best practices for onboarding PAs and PAs in the VA system also came up.

Dox: What do you think are the most pressing issues right now for PAs?

BC: OTP. This can help pave the way for better ways to look at PA workforce projections. Research is needed to see what kind of work PAs and NPs are doing. Are they substituting MD work or supporting? It is not currently standardized. PAs can fit into different niches depending on how they’re needed. Being this flexible can be good but also bad. Some states are more restrictive than others with what PAs can do. And what will this all mean with AI and other technological advances?

Dox: Important questions to consider. Why should PAs get involved with AAPA?

BC: AAPA does a lot of advocacy for the profession and provides good resources. Joining AAPA is like voting. We need our voices to be heard. When lobbying for health insurance reimbursement for example, PAs are in the same venue as NPs and MDs, but smallest in number. AAPA helps us advocate for ourselves.

Dox: What else do you hope to see for the PA profession?

BC: I think training for all clinicians will change. In PA programs for example, the GRE requirement is a barrier for minority and older applicants. We need to do more to diversify our profession.

This interview was conducted by Angelica Recierdo, Op-Med Editor.

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