Shenandoah University Aims for a Better Tomorrow

Twenty-five Shenandoah University PA students participated in leadership training aimed at preventing provider burnout, a critical, yet often overlooked, issue among healthcare providers. The training was designed to equip students to foster a positive healthcare environment, prevent future medical errors, and improve patient outcomes.

Described as feelings of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of personal accomplishment, burnout has reportedly affected 30% of PAs. Research shows that leadership opportunities and team building events are effective in preventing professional burnout. Despite these findings, a majority of PAs do not receive formal leadership training until they are on the job. Shenandoah University PA student Abby Sekulich and Program Director Anthony Miller, M. Ed, PA-C worked together to create a leadership training program, called the “Shenandoah University Physician Assistant Student Society (SUPASS) Summit.”

The Summit was designed for the current and incoming PA student officers from Shenandoah’s Winchester and Leesburg campuses. The Summit’s goals were to enhance student leadership skills, build teamwork, teach strategies to prevent burnout, and foster intercampus relationships.

Facilitated by PAEA’s Senior Director of Organizational Development Kendal Mealy, the Summit’s exercises were inspired by The Leadership Practices Inventory. During the one-day event, PA students were encouraged to share their visions, enable others to act, and publicly recognize their peers.

As burnout is often associated with poor patient and interprofessional relationships, one activity challenged PA students to build camaraderie and foster positive relationship-building skills. PA students selected objects from a designated “encouragement” table and publicly recognized another participant while gifting the small token to their peer at a time of their choosing.

To assess the project’s impact, a post-survey was administered. All (100%) participants agreed they were engaged with one another the entire day, and 95% agreed the workshop provided them with skills to prevent burnout among themselves and peers. One participant expressed, “[The SUPA Summit] challenged me to think critically about how I can apply different leadership methods as a student, SUPASS member, and future PA.”

Students are already putting these strategies into practice: Sekulich shared that at a recent meeting SUPASS meeting, over ten public encouragements were made, half of those coming from members who had not participated in the Summit.

SUPASS member Courtney Bendig noted the project’s impact. “Though I didn’t participate in the workshop, there was an apparent difference in our program’s dynamic following the event. Communication was more seamless, and general morale among students seemed much improved,” she said.

Shenandoah plans to continue leadership development training for class officers annually, and Ms. Sekulich and Mr. Miller intend to present their findings via a poster presentation.

“This project helped refocus the goal of the Shenandoah PA Student Society to better our program and the surrounding community…taking a moment to appreciate small acts of kindness that can go unnoticed in this busy life as a PA student,” said Bendig.

We applaud Shenandoah for providing PA students the opportunity to develop a skill set that can be carried not only into their classrooms, but also their careers!

This project was supported by the nccPA Health Foundation’s Be the CHANGE grant.

(Posted January 2020)

  • "The SUPA Summit challenged me to think critically about how I can apply different leadership methods as a student, SUPASS member, and future PA."-Shenandoah PA student.

The exercises were largely taken from the Leadership Practices Inventory, a book by Barry Z. Posner and James M. Kouzes detailing formal leadership strategies.

Shenandoah PA students engaged in a variety of team building activities.

Students learned strategies to foster greater engagement and positive peer-to-peer interactions.

Check out the work of past Foundation grantees in our Spotlight Archive.