The PA profession has a publication problem. We simply don’t write, present, or publish enough. The median number of articles PA faculty publish is zero and the majority of PA faculty and educators have not published a single article in their careers. Despite years of expertise and millions of collective patient encounters, our profession does not often appear in the academic medical literature or in the mainstream publications our colleagues and patients read. In the eyes of much of the healthcare world, we are invisible.
PAs are missing out on many benefits of writing and publication. Successful publication can help PAs establish expertise in clinical topics. It can open doors to teaching, academia, or other non-clinical realms. It can impact patients far beyond the walls of a single clinic or hospital.
But it's easy to see why PAs are hesitant to write and publish. Most are already saddled with demanding full-time jobs. We often lack protected time for research and writing. We rarely have funding or other resources available to support our work. Very few of us have formal research training and, understandably, don’t feel confident taking on new projects.
But there is hope. Despite the obstacles stacked against us, PAs can (and do) publish their work. Conferences, like the recent AAPA 2023 conference held in Nashville, TN, offer excellent opportunities for PAs. Here are some ways that conferences can help PAs share their ideas with a larger audience.
Conferences offer opportunities for small projects
Small academic projects have major advantages over larger, more complex ones. They are less intimidating, easier to plan and execute, and require a smaller investment of time and energy.
Luckily, conferences are loaded with opportunities for small projects. PAs can submit original research and even case reports as abstracts. These are much simpler undertakings than submitting a full manuscript to medical a journal. They are also great ways to test a new idea in front of an audience.
Courtney Titus, PA-C is a pediatric emergency medicine PA who turned her emergency department quality improvement project into multiple presentations at different conferences this year, including a Research in Action presentation at AAPA 2023. Despite her recent success, Titus said she might not have submitted the same work straight to a medical journal.
“Writing for a medical journal always seemed more daunting than putting together a PowerPoint presentation,” she said. “A conference poster or lecture-style presentation seemed like a more natural, accessible first step in sharing my work with a larger audience.”
After a flood of positive feedback, Titus says she feels ready to submit the work to a peer-reviewed journal.
Conferences allow for immediate feedback and validation
The writing and submission process for medical journal manuscripts can be long and arduous. It can take months just to get a decision and much longer than that to see your ideas in print. Conferences offer a much shorter path to feedback and validation.
Conference research presentations and posters are often submitted, accepted, and presented in a much shorter timeframe than journal publication. They are presented in front of a live audience of attendees which means the presenter can hear immediate feedback (and praise!). This can boost the confidence of first-time writers and researchers.
“Presenting at conferences gave instant gratification by allowing me to engage with and receive feedback from my peers and colleagues,” Courtney Titus, PA-C said. “I was also able to get a better sense of the type of audience that was most interested in my topic and my work, which will help me decide which journal I will eventually choose to submit a full manuscript.”
Conferences foster networking and mentorship
One of the barriers to PA research and publication is a lack of mentorship. Because so few PAs publish, few of us are available to mentor others through the process.
Conferences are a great way to meet other PAs who are interested in scholarly pursuits. Attendees can target specific lecture sessions relevant to their topic area or just wander a poster hall looking for someone interested in the same academic realm.
Experienced academics are often willing to collaborate with less experienced attendees. Annie Wildermuth, PhD, PA-C, RD is an assistant professor at the Uniformed Services University School of Medicine and is a widely published researcher who presented at AAPA 2023.
“One of the reasons I get excited about conferences is the opportunity to connect with PAs who are interested in research but don’t know where to start,” she said. “I remember blindly guessing at how to start my research and public speaking career, so I am committed to being a source of quality information and mentorship for PAs wanting to explore these avenues.”
Conferences are an excellent way to inject enthusiasm into the next phase of your healthcare career. PAs hoping to publish their work should look to conferences for presentation and networking opportunities. Over time, this type of work can raise the profile of the entire profession and benefit our colleagues and patients far into the future.
Are you interested in writing about your experience attending a medical conference this year? Respond here.
Harrison Reed, MMSc, PA-C has no conflicts of interest to report.
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