issue Spring 2022

How Can Institutions Respond to the Challenges Students Face in Affording Health Science Education?

By Jason Radke, MMS, PA-C

These past two years have led to a great deal of introspection. More than ever, we have become aware of just how connected we are, and how an impact we have on a personal level can have an effect on a community and even a global scale.

The recent past has also provided the opportunity for growth and innovation not only when it comes to education, but also in advancing our respective professions. Having this community and global view, we are even more aware of the need to diversify our workforce, and that better access to healthcare education can lead to better access to health care overall.

These are truly investments in not only a student, but in communities and our future.

This can start at the recruitment and admissions processes. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we can effectively build a cohort through virtual interactions. In a “new normal,” what does this mean for how we approach recruitment and admissions? Equity can play a role in who makes it to campus for a visit or an interview, whether that is based on factors like ability or financial means to do so. As we redefine our processes, are we better able to provide access to our programs for a wider range of highly qualified students? With innovations and with our mission in mind, we can demonstrate and teach equity from our very first interactions.

We can also view financial aid and scholarships in the same way. These are truly investments in not only a student, but in communities and our future. If finances are a stressor throughout education, that directly translates to a distraction from learning. If that barrier can be removed to whatever degree, a student can pour their focus into the knowledge and skills necessary to become a competent provider.

Removing barriers also gives students a better start in their careers. An investment at those early stages can pay off in ways that are not easily seen. Think for a moment about a graduate of our university who takes a position in family practice. If they are seeing roughly 30 patients a day, five days a week, that is nearly 8,000 patients per year. Over a 40-year career, that becomes at least 320,000 people with a single graduate impacting health and wellness. Expanded to their families and the community that provider serves, the number can grow exponentially. That early investment suddenly looks much smaller — and much more meaningful.

As we move forward, we need to always center ourselves on what we want for our professions. We need to continue to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in everything we do; we need to find ways to remove barriers for our students; and as a university community and network of alums, we need to invest in our future colleagues to truly carry out our mission.

Jason Radke is the chair and program director of RFU’s Physician Assistant Program.