PA educational programs have pivoted numerous times over the past fifty years. Most times, legislative changes acted as a catalyst for change. The PA profession has matured, and practice autonomy has been enhanced; these have led to an integral change in the way we educate PA students. Even adjusting to the entry-level master’s degree has caused innovative changes in PA programs. Yet, throughout the history of the PA education, few moments have impacted it the way Covid-19 has.
Student learning, for one, has been greatly impacted. It will take years to process and require research about how student learning and competencies acquisition have been affected. Certainly, our students didn’t receive the same quality of education in 2020 as in previous years.
PA programs already moving toward virtual platforms were able to shift fairly easily. For the majority of PA programs, though, faculty and educators had to quickly adapt to virtual teaching. If you felt a separation from your students, you’re not alone. There was often a sense of isolation and disorientation. We soon learned connecting with students on Zoom is much different from in the classroom.
Not every change was negative, fortunately. Advancement in teaching methods accelerated. This required ingenuity to traverse the distance between ourselves and the students within the virtual platform. Students and faculty showed resilience during an uncertain year. We expected a traditional model of classroom instruction and laboratory training but were forced to pivot to virtual classes and labs. Fortunately, PA programs worked to be innovative when it came to pedagogical adaptations, which led to improved measurement of student learning outcomes.
Of course, we had to continuously navigate the ARC-PA COVID-19 reports. This made PA programs chronicle the changes in their program, which is not a bad change to make. Programs documented how student clinical rotations were truncated. We found ways to fill the gaps with technological learning opportunities. The adjustments PA programs made will provide a blueprint for what PA education may look like in the future.
The good news is our PA students continued to learn. They graduated and will adjust to another new normal as they enter the workforce. They will thrive despite the challenges they faced for the majority of last year.
Together, we endured fear and sorrow, suffering and death from COVID-19. As 2021 unfolds, hope springs eternal that the shroud of the pandemic will gradually fade away. There is a very bright future ahead. As PA educators, we must lead the way forward for the sake of our students and the future of the PA profession.