FAIRFIELD, Conn.—Two Sacred Heart University students in the College of Health Professions’ physician assistant (PA) graduate program have been elected to serve on the Student Academy Board of Directors (SAAAPA) for the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA).
Erica Ramos ’21 was elected northeast regional director, and Eryka Bradley ’21 was chosen to serve as director of diversity and outreach. Victoria Ho ’21 was named a fellow for the AAPA’s Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender (LBGT PA) Caucus, and Karina Arrelucea ’21 was elected to the AAPA House of Delegates.
Each school in the country with a PA program sends a representative to the national AAPA conference, usually scheduled in May, to vote on the school’s behalf. Because this year’s conference was canceled due to the pandemic, campaigning for the 2020 student board positions took a different form.
Typically, students announce their candidacies and present their platforms during the national conference, and their peers vote at that time. This year, candidates submitted campaign videos explaining their platforms and their passions. Videos were uploaded to the AAPA website, and voting took place online.
Ramos pressed for involving more students in PA advocacy. As the northeast director, she now represents 55 schools, serving as a liaison between the students and AAPA. She advocates for her constituents and keeps them updated on AAPA developments that affect them. Her primary goal is to make students aware of AAPA’s mission and get them excited about opportunities to get involved.
“While it seems like we’re separated because of COVID, I actually think it’s brought us closer together, in a sense,” Ramos said. Instead of waiting for a meeting to talk with someone from another school or district, she observed, people have been reaching out through social platforms and staying in touch.
“I don’t feel that the pandemic has hindered our mission,” said Ramos. “Everyone is very passionate and keeping the conversation going.”
Ramos said she was inspired to run for the student board when she attended AAPA’s annual Leadership & Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C., in March. She joined PAs from her home district in New York as they went to Capitol Hill to visit legislators and lobby for PAs’ national interests. As a student, she thought she would be observing only, but she had the opportunity to voice her own experience and concerns for the profession’s future. Among those concerns is a significant difference in work situations for nurse practitioners and physician assistants, both of whom are classified as advanced practice providers. Ramos explained that PAs do not have the same autonomy as nurse practitioners. A PA must operate under a physician’s supervision, while nurse practitioners are able to open their own practices, she said.
Ramos said she feels especially blessed to be able to follow her dream to become a PA. She said she tells people, “If you have something that you want to do, leave no stone unturned. You go to bed with those dreams and wake up with them.”
Bradley, who also attended the Leadership & Advocacy Summit in March, had to compete in a run-off election because she and another student tied in the initial round of five candidates to be director of diversity and outreach. It is a new position on the SAAAPA board that interacts with students across the nation.
“They added the diversity portion to this position, so I actually get to shape it into what I want it to be,” said Bradley. Among her new responsibilities, she reaches out to other organizations representing the allied health professions and relays information back to the students at AAPA to keep everyone updated on what is happening in interprofessional education.
“My goal is to get more minority students involved in leadership roles, especially in AAPA and at their schools,” Bradley said. She also wants to reduce the barriers that could keep some students from attending AAPA’s national conference. She plans to work with AAPA’s caucuses to establish scholarships that would help cover the costs for students, particularly minorities, to attend the conferences.
“I also want to increase awareness about the PA profession, especially to minority students, so they know what their options are,” she said. She’s working with a member of the AAPA African-American Heritage Caucus to use an established pipeline to “help fill the gap and help bring more minority students into PA programs.”
“Sacred Heart has been very supportive in all my leadership endeavors,” said Bradley. “I’m excited to make some change.”
Ho was one of three students selected from a national pool of applicants to be a fellow in the organization’s LBGT PA Caucus. They will focus on LBGT issues in regard to how providers can give better care to their patients in this demographic. Recently, the LBGT PA caucus conducted a one-day conference for practicing PAs to earn continuing medical education credit, and all the topics directly related to treating members of the LBGT community.
As part of this fellowship, Ho will attend board meetings, conferences and the Leadership & Advocacy Summit in March to lobby for issues regarding the PA profession. She also will have the opportunity to present a project at the national AAPA conference next year.
“My biggest goal in this role is to learn how the practicing PA field runs, not only medically, but politically as well,” said Ho. “We are given the opportunity to write bills, work with other programs and develop educational programs. I want to see what is needed and how I can help this community.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity. I think our program does a wonderful job encouraging us not only to be students, but student advocates and leaders,” said Ho. “It’s pushed us to realize that we’re more than grad students. We can also make a difference.”
Arrelucea was one of 22 students from across the U.S. whom the SAAAPA elected to the AAPA House of Delegates. She was inspired to apply when she attended a Zoom conversation about social justice that the Physician Assistant Education Association conducted for students. Hearing people’s stories, she said, she wanted to use her own voice for change, “not only in the profession, but in the way we will be learning.”
“I am incredibly honored,” said Arrelucea. “I want to make the best of it for myself, for my classmates and for PA students everywhere.”
As a member of the House of Delegates, Arrelucea can author her own proposals and vote on proposals other committees bring to the group. “My theme is always ‘change.’ I want to be part of what drives our profession forward. That’s the only way we’ll be able to grow as a profession and as a society.
“I feel so privileged to be part of such as strong class,” she said of her classmates’ accomplishments. “A lot of us are driven, but we are still very supportive and push each other to take advantage of these opportunities. In terms of my class as a collective, the faculty must have seen something in us when they accepted us. While we are all different, we are all very similar in terms of drive,” said Arrelucea.
While the move off campus due to COVID-19 first seemed detrimental, “it actually put us at an advantage,” she said. “Because it showed us that we can adapt. We’re all still in our program and we’re moving forward. We can thrive.” In fact, Arrelucea said she feels more prepared for the future. “If I go into emergency medicine or another unpredictable specialty, I’ll be able to handle whatever comes my way,” she said.
“Having two students from the same school elected to the Student Board of Directors is extremely rare,” said Maura Iversen, dean of the College of Health Professions. “Sacred Heart having four representatives working nationally with AAPA speaks to the incredible level of student involvement and leadership we have among the students in the physician assistant program. We are extremely proud of them.”
Pictured, from left, are Erica Ramos, Eryka Bradley, Victoria Ho and Karina Arrelucea.
About Sacred Heart University
As the second-largest independent Catholic university in New England, and one of the fastest-growing in the U.S., Sacred Heart University is a national leader in shaping higher education for the 21st century. SHU offers more than 80 undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs on its Fairfield, Conn., campus. Sacred Heart also has satellites in Connecticut, Luxembourg and Ireland and offers online programs. More than 9,000 students attend the University’s nine colleges and schools: Arts & Sciences; Communication, Media & the Arts; Social Work; Computer Science & Engineering; Health Professions; the Isabelle Farrington College of Education; the Jack Welch College of Business & Technology; the Dr. Susan L. Davis & Richard J. Henley College of Nursing; and St. Vincent’s College. Sacred Heart stands out from other Catholic institutions as it was established and led by laity. The contemporary Catholic university is rooted in the rich Catholic intellectual tradition and the liberal arts, and at the same time cultivates students to be forward thinkers who enact change—in their own lives, professions and in their communities. The Princeton Review includes SHU in its Best 385 Colleges–2020 Edition, “Best in the Northeast” and Best 252 Business Schools–2019 Edition. Sacred Heart is home to the award-winning, NPR-affiliated radio station, WSHU, a Division I athletics program and an impressive performing arts program that includes choir, band, dance and theater. www.sacredheart.edu