In a year unlike any other, it was no surprise that the 2021 Graduate Project Symposium was very different than any previous version of the event.
As with all large gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, the symposium was virtual. Students, faculty and presenters participated by video conference. The more than 200 attendees were seated in front of their computers at home or in their offices instead of in the Atrium in Biotech Place.
Similarly, students had to present their projects, and evaluators critique them, through digital interactions. And keynote speaker Robin Hunter-Buskey, DHSC, MPAS, PA-C, gave her address looking at her webcam instead of an attentive audience.
On the surface, the Graduate Project Symposium had a very different look and feel. But in many ways, it was also the same, and that was a central message of Hunter-Buskey’s address.
“We All Have Challenges”
Throughout her distinguished career, Hunter-Buskey has focused her work on serving underprivileged and vulnerable patient populations. She has experience with in-home health care, emergency medicine, substance abuse, and infectious disease settings.
Notably, she was a frontline healthcare worker during the Ebola outbreak in Liberia in 2014. She currently serves as the Clinical Services Support Unit Chief for the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and ICE Health Service Corps. She is a Senior Physician Assistant and Captain with the U.S. Public Health Service.
During her address, she shared stories of her experiences during her career, relating them to what the Wake Forest PA Studies program graduates may also face during their careers. Although her career spans more than 30 years, she said the challenges she has faced are not unlike those the students listening might face very soon.
As a Black woman, Hunter-Buskey said she was the sole student of color in her PA class. “It was at a time when diversity and inclusion were the kind of tough conversations that were never had,” she recalled.
She shared that story not to gain sympathy, but to help students understand that they will also face difficulties. “We all have challenges,” she said. “We persevere. I made it, and you’re going to make it. Our script is not over, because we’re still writing it.”
Commitment to Team
Hunter-Buskey spoke about the students’ need to commit to helping others – not just patients, but colleagues, PAs who come after them, and the profession in general. PAs have to continue to work hard for respect and recognition as medical professionals.
“When I graduated, my colleagues and I were usually the first and only PAs in our areas,” she said, recalling that they were all being watched closely by doctors and administrators. “People were looking for us to make mistakes. The pressure was enormous.”
Only by supporting each other and advancing the profession have PAs been able to gain the status they have today, she continued. But there is still a long way to go. “The commitment to team is more important today,” she said.
But she said that commitment extends far beyond advancing the PA profession. It’s much more important for PAs to use their skills, knowledge, compassion and leadership to help people. Especially those who really need it.
“There is a lot of discussion about social determinants of health,” she said, encouraging Wake Forest PA students to keep in mind the mission of the program. “Communities are struggling. You have a charge to fulfill, to improve the health of underserved communities.”
Fulfilling that mission will mean nothing less than changing the face of public health. It’s a challenge every generation of PAs faces. What changes is how PAs need to confront this challenge.
“You have to be respectful of individual patients’ needs and values. You will have to take care of people who don’t look like you and who don’t live like you. You have to acknowledge and confront your own personal biases, and you have to be patient, principled, and disciplined.”
Robin Hunter-Buskey, DHSC, MPAS, PA-C
2021 Graduate Project Symposium
Above all else, Hunter-Buskey charged the PA students listening to find their own path to being agents of change. “Leaders are change agents. I believe each of you are change agents,” she concluded. “When you recognize how and where you fit in, you’re able to step up.”