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Symposium gives future physician assistants insight into service

Graduate students in Elon University’s Physician Assistant Studies program learned Tuesday from faculty and staff across campus how to create meaningful relationships with underserved and vulnerable populations.

Assistant Professor Aunchalee Palmquist

Elon University’s Physician Assistant Studies program hosted a symposium on Tuesday to introduce its graduate students to the many cultural, social and economic forces that shape the way patients interact with their medical care providers.

Grounded in its exploration of health and underserved populations from a global and local perspective, the second annual symposium’s focus was on elements affecting immigrant communities and their experiences in health care, specifically language and how it impacts experiences both for patient and provider.

The program on the third floor of the Global Commons building also served as an opportunity for students to hear from Elon faculty about the intersection of education, health and poverty. A keynote address from Associate Professor Jean Rattigan-Rohr illustrated how health strongly influences a child’s performance in school.

Rohr, founder and director of the “It Takes A Village” Project at Elon University, shared health and wellness statistics from both North Carolina and Alamance County. The data buttressed her message to students that the work they do as medical care providers affects more than physical well-being.

Associate Professor Jean Rattigan-Rohr

Ensuring the health of children helps make it possible for them to excel in school, which in turn plays a role in breaking cycles of poverty.

“One of the things I want you to think about is how you, as a physician, can not only do well in your practice, but make significant change in your community,” Rohr said. “Truly, I do believe in the power of one. I’ve seen it work in my own life. I do know, that in professions such as yours, you have the ability if you give yourself wholeheartedly to it, to be an incredible power.”

Faculty taking part in the symposium included:

Aunchalee Palmquist, assistant professor of anthropology: "Open-Ended Questioning? How to Listen to an Underserved Population: Perspectives From a Cultural Anthropologist and Ethnographer.” “Working with patients in vulnerable populations can often be a process,” Palmquist said. “You may not be able to accomplish everything in that first visit. Maybe you need to develop a relationship of trust so they’ll continue to come back and see you.”

Professor Emeritus Ken Hassell

Ken Hassell, professor emeritus and former Periclean Scholar mentor: “Identifying the Body: An Exploration of Assumptions and Disruptions of Identity.” Hassell spoke with students on ways the body is at the center of negotiations of power and subjugation, and how people seem to know themselves and others. “Most identities are what we call socially constructed. They are ‘constructed,’” Hassell said. “They are not fixed in the way we think they are.”

Dr. Andrew Lamb, medical director in the Department of Physician Assistant Studies: “The Link Between Global Health and Healthcare at Home." Lamb told students how lives of service are rewarding and that they don't want to look back on their careers with regret for not helping the underserved.

“Until the needs of the world become personal to you, they don’t become real," he said. "And by personal, not only do you see it, you experience it. You hear it and smell it and touch it. When you experience it, it changes you.”

Dr. Andrew Lamb, medical director in Elon's Physician Assistant Studies graduate program

Assistant Professor Alexis Moore organized the symposium. Moore said the symposium demonstrates the program's continued emphasis on patient communication, which she described as "a cornerstone of the PA profession."

“Our focus this year, in part, is on the elements of the Latino community here in Alamance County. Latinos represent a significant portion of the patient population and will be seen by PA students during rotations,” Moore said. “We wish to empower our students at this key juncture, before receiving their white coats and entering clinical training.

"Professional duty upholds that attached to each person is a life steeped in culture, belief, choices, feelings, emotions and fears.”

The university's 27-month PA program engages students through an innovative systems-based curriculum that in addition to large group discussion utilizes small group discussion, hands-on clinical skills labs, simulated patient experiences, lecture and patient scenario discussions.

The PA program shares facilites with the Doctor of Physical Therapy program in the Francis Center on East Haggard Avenue, home to Elon University's School of Health Sciences.

Eric Townsend,
12/10/2014 2:50 PM