Underserved populations symposium offers perspectives on healing for future physician assistants
The Underserved Populations Symposium hosted by Elon's Physician Assistant Studies program is in its fourth year.
University Chaplain Jan Fuller advised that “to grasp and understand healing, we must first understand and embrace brokenness” during her keynote address at the annual Underserved Populations Symposium on Thursday, Oct. 27.
The symposium, hosted by the Elon University Physician Assistant Studies program now in its fourth year, explored themes of healing from both spiritual and clinical perspectives. Students and invited guests taking part in the symposium examined how exploring these contexts could change patient care for the better, with the help of speakers from the Elon community and across the state.
The symposium, held in the McCoy Commons at the Oaks, is envisioned by Assistant Professor Alexis Moore as an opportunity for her students to take a pause at the end of their didactic year, and to reflect on the needs of vulnerable communities and on their professional call to embrace solutions to help those most at risk of poor health outcomes.
In preparation for the symposium, physician assistant program students read “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi. The book, an account by a young neurosurgery fellow who was diagnosed with lung cancer and subsequently died, set the stage for their discussions about healing.
In her address, Fuller shared a profound personal account of how she came to engage with healing while spending her young adulthood within the war-torn Middle East. She suggested to the program’s students that they could see healing as an ongoing process: a continuum within which all life engages suffering – but then suffering in itself holds the power to heal.
Providing another perspective on healing was Robin Emmons, CEO and founder of Sow Much Good, who reminded attendees of how alleviating the effects of the food inequality that exists across the state can strengthen those in the underserved communities that suffer from it. A resident of Huntersville, N.C., she stepped back from a 20-year corporate finance career in 2008, little realizing that her love of gardening would be transformed into a life as a full-time farmer and CEO of a nonprofit.
In particular, Emmons urged participants to reject the term “food desert,” which is commonly used for areas with little access to fresh produce. Deserts, she noted, are naturally-occurring. “Food deserts are not natural: they have people in them, people without the real means to acquire food,” Emmons said.
Returning to the crossroads between spiritual and clinical approaches, Dr. Larry Burk presented attendees with insights into the evidence that supports the value of integrative medicine, where clinicians and patients reach a common cause to deploy a range of therapies in dealing with illness.
In his address, Burk – one of the original integrative medicine education faculty at Duke and a radiologist by training – noted the degree to which alternative medicine modalities are being used in clinical settings within this more holistic approach to healthcare. He also introduced participants in the symposium to his original research into patient communication and dreams as possible warnings of symptoms or disease and their influence in healing.
Patients of Wings of Recovery at the Cone Health Cancer Center shared their narratives of healing, both in the face of new diagnoses and returning disease. The role of faith and compassionate physician assistants, nurses and doctors formed the pillars of their strength empowering them through each stage of engagement with life and death, they said.
Brittany Wiseman, a rising scholar, and second year student in the program, shared details of her original research with Moore on physician assistant training and empathy.
The university's 27-month physician assistant studies program engages students through an innovative systems-based curriculum that in addition to involving large-group discussion uses small-group discussion, hands-on clinical skills labs, simulated patient experiences, lectures and patient scenario discussions.
The program shares facilities with the Doctor of Physical Therapy program in the Francis Center on East Haggard Avenue, home to Elon University's School of Health Sciences.