Emerging Clinical Leaders Program:
Leadership training through collaboration

The Wake Forest School of Medicine has launched a new interprofessional program that provides leadership development to students in health professions: The Emerging Clinical Leaders Program. 

After a successful pilot involving 24 MD students in 2017, the Wake Forest Emerging Clinical Leaders Program has expanded and now includes includes 36 healthcare trainees from across the School of Medicine. PA, CRNA and MD programs are all represented. The program is offered through collaboration with the North Carolina Medical Society (NCMS).

Wake Forest School of Medicine students participate in the Emerging Clinical Leaders Program

Wake Forest School of Medicine assistant professor Roy Strowd, MD, has really enjoyed watching the program roll out and has been impressed by the commitment of the students. He said that the program “focuses on how to take skills directly into the clinic to help students see the value of leadership in their day-to-day actions.”

Seven PA students were invited to participate in the 2018-2019 cycle: Erin Garmon, Geoff Alexander, William Kabrich, Grant Davidson, Claire Porter, Stephanie Watson and Aaron Wooten. First-year student Will Kabrich shared, “I was humbled and honored to be asked to join this program. One of my goals coming into PA school was to learn more about what leading looks like in the context of healthcare. I have a strong desire to leverage my skills to make a difference within the PA profession.”

Second-year PA student Grant Davidson said, “The ability to participate in a program that fosters leadership tools while still in school enables us to refine those skills. This program helps us think of ways to positively impact healthcare in the future, which will subsequently improve the quality of care for our patients.”

The year-long program began in October 2018 and will be held over a period of seven months. It is composed of three half-day sessions and two one-hour virtual sessions. The sessions involve hands-on leadership training provided by experts at NCMS’s Kanof Institute for Physician Leadership. According to Carolyn Ferree, former NCMS president, the goal of the program is to "help medical professionals become effective leaders. This ensures that our healthcare system provides better quality for individual patients, is more cost effective and provides greater transparency.”

Speaking of cost, the program costs $530 per participant. All costs are absorbed by the School of Medicine, making it a free opportunity for the students.

The Department of PA Studies always welcomes the opportunity for interprofessional collaboration. The Emerging Clinical Leaders Program provides our students with another venue to do just that. Geoff Jones observed, “It's been insightful and beneficial to learn alongside MD and CRNA students. Every individual has a unique perspective and approach to leadership. Learning alongside them has helped me to grow.”

According to Dr. Strowd, with the success of the program so far, plans are to expand the curriculum statewide.

Wake Forest PA students value—and pursue—wellness

Before setting foot on campus, most students understand PA school will be a difficult two years. Academic stress is expected, but PA students often experience stress for other reasons, and the effects on self-care, sleep and energy can impair academic performance. Counseling and Well-Being Services (CWBS) at the School of Medicine is there to help.

Students participate in outdoor yoga in Bailey ParkSome of the reasons that Wake Forest PA students visited CWBS this past year included family and relationship difficulties, spiritual uncertainty, anxiety of various types and managing longstanding mental health conditions.* Academic concerns often fall lower down on the list. Students understand that self-care must precede caring for others. They expressed interest in developing coping strategies for PA school that would help them weather the challenges of working in medicine.

Some students said they simply needed someone to listen to them and described counseling as helpful in “confirming that my emotions are valid.” Another student described the importance of “having someone in your corner rooting for you.” Students pointed out the benefits of talking to someone objective who had experience with PA students and understood the rigors of the program. 

Students said that counseling helped them to change their behaviors and perspectives and to manage stress and anxiety in healthier ways. One student stated that, “For me, the issue was framing the problem. Once I talked it out with someone I was capable of facing it head-on, which empowered me.”

Students have been able to move away from self-judgement, strengthen self-care practices, learn stress reduction techniques and practice relaxation techniques for insomnia.

The Wake Forest PA program introduces students to CWBS during orientation and helps initiate the conversation about mental health during the "VITALS of Being a PA" course in Unit 2 through a session delivered by Paige Bentley, PhD, LPCS, director of CWBS. Furthermore, faculty and staff are helpful in recommending counseling to students. One student described their experience this way:

“I have never been someone to see a counselor or talk about my personal problems or emotions. I vividly recall sitting in class during Unit 2 when Paige came in to talk to our class about dealing with emotional stressors during PA school, and I just started crying. In that moment I knew I couldn't figure this out on my own. I think through counseling services I discovered a healthier way to talk through the emotions I was struggling with internally. I would rather someone not know the anxiety or stress I am going through because, like most people, I am uncomfortable being vulnerable. CWBS has allowed me to have an emotional outlet with someone who is unbiased and willing to listen, and for me that is something I didn't know I really needed.”

Students had lots of advice for incoming PA students. Many emphasized the importance of making plans for when hard times come and the importance of knowing the resources available.

“Make an appointment before you are a hot mess. You are not weak for needing help. You are not less because you need help. Don't ever think that. Use every single resource that is provided to you. PA school is not easy. If it was, everybody would do it.”

The positive reviews students gave to Bentley and Ryan MacLeod, LMFT (the other counselor in CWBS) could fill a small book. Winston students can meet with Paige or Ryan in person; students on the Boone campus can meet via video technology. Many students affirmed that while more students should be seeking counseling services, more counselors were also needed to help manage the demand. 

Counseling sessions at Wake Forest PA are free, and students do not need to be in a crisis to reach out. As one student said, “Meet with the team early and find a therapist that you connect with. Think of it as selecting football equipment before preseason. You WILL get hit, so prepare by having appropriate gear ready before you get the concussion, not after. School, family concerns, self-care and opportunities for growth are just some of the topics I have been able to discuss. Life as a PA student is hard; it is almost impossible without support!” 

The Department of PA Studies is firmly committed to student well-being. We encourage students is to reach out and accept support. 

*Information in this article is from 39 students who responded to anonymous surveys sent via the Wake PA Class of 2020 listserv.