Q&A with Susan Hawkins, MSEd, PA-C, Physician Assistant Educator at Chatham University
Susan Hawkins is an associate professor and PBL coordinator at Chatham University, a small liberal arts college in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She graduated with a BA from Carnegie Mellon University in 1975, PA certificate from Community College of Allegheny County in 1981, and an MSEd in community counseling from Duquesne University in 1996. Susan is a member of AAPA, APAP and PSPA, and has been with Chatham University ( www.chatham.edu ) for more than 15 years. When it comes to her career, Susan says, "If you are sincere and caring, it comes across to others."
Q: What motivated you to become a physician assistant educator?
A: I always wanted to teach, and after 12 years as a physician assistant I got the opportunity to help start a PA program in Pittsburgh.
Q: Can you describe Chatham University? How is the PA program different from other schools?
A: Chatham is a small liberal arts college, but our physician assistant program is big (80 students per year). We do our education via a pedagogy called Problem-Based Learning, which makes us fairly unique. This involves working on actual patient cases in groups of about nine students and one faculty member. You can learn more about PBL and the Chatham University PA program by visiting http://www.chatham.edu/academics/programs/graduate/mpas/ .
Q: When and how did you start at Chatham?
A: I began teaching at the school in 1995. I was teaching at another university in town, and someone called me to tell me about this brand new program. When I met with the program director at Chatham, I liked the PBL curriculum and the opportunity to start something new.
Q: Typically, what are your day-to-day responsibilities at the university?
A: I am the Problem-based Learning Coordinator, which involves teaching as well as supervising full time and adjunct faculty who do problem-based learning. It is a large part of the curriculum (nine credits each for two semesters).
Q: Are there other areas of interest for you as a physician assistant, either clinically or educationally, that you plan to pursue?
A: I am interested in students who are able to talk about medicine and know the correct information, but who underperform on standardized tests. I am also interested in interprofessional education.
Q: What is the greatest challenge you face in your job?
A: How to find ways to teach a large number of students when they have different learning styles, cultures, ages and temperaments.
Q: What do you like most about your job? What do you dislike most?
A: I love working with students, particularly in groups. I dislike paperwork!
Q: What advice do you have for others applying to PA programs in the future?
A: Make good grades in undergraduate school. A bad freshman year can come back to haunt you when you apply for graduate school!
Q: Are you currently involved with any research projects? Are there any projects you would like to be involved with?
A: I am involved in research in interprofessional education. We have done some projects with students from PA, PT, OT, nursing and counseling psychology at Chatham. It's a great way for them to find out about each other, since they will work together in the real world.
Q: Do you feel the role of a PA in education has changed over recent years? If so, how?
A: The knowledge base keeps growing by leaps and bounds, and it's always a challenge to keep up. Also, it has become impossible for any one person to know everything about medicine, so teamwork and collaboration are so important.
Q: What do you feel is of the greatest concern to the PA profession today?
A: Degree creep, requiring higher degrees than are needed to perform a job, is a big topic of discussion. Does everyone in healthcare need a doctorate? Credentialing and privileges varying from state to state is sometimes difficult.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Seeing a student go out into the world with confidence after making it through a very difficult curriculum.
Q: What is the most important thing you've learned over the course of your career?
A: If you are sincere and caring, it comes across to others. Everyone won't like you no matter how hard you try.
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