College of Health Sciences Department of Physician Assistant Studies receives awards for projects focusing in rural health

Lexington, Ky. (Jan. 5, 2021) -- The University of Kentucky’s College of Health Sciences Department of Physician Assistant Studies has recently received awards for two projects focusing in rural health.

The Kentucky Rural Health Association (KRHA) Conference hosted its annual event via Zoom in early November, where UK PAS faculty, Shelley Irving, MSPAS, PA-C, Josh Burkhart, MSPAS, PA-C, and Leslie Woltenberg, PhD, received the First Place Poster Award.

The poster, “Fostering Professional Identity Development Among Rural Physician Assistant Students,” explores a model that is designed for PA students in rural areas to create meaningful engagement between patients, colleagues and employers within the communities that they will serve as health professionals.

Aspects of this model include journal clubs that are focused on rural topics, philanthropic events, and educational engagement opportunities with the community.

The inspiration for the project began with Irving, Burkhart and Woltenberg developing interest in how they could engage UK PAS students located on the Morehead State University’s Campus on what means to be a PA in rural areas.

Woltenberg says that the opportunity to work with students was incredibly rewarding.  

“Our students will be difference-makers in the communities they serve. It is a joy to be a small part of their journey,” she said.

Irving says she was thrilled to have the opportunity to prepare these future providers for the challenges that come with treating patients in the most vulnerable counties in Kentucky.

“Rural providers are leaders in their practices and communities. Our goal is to prepare and provide them with the skills to positively transform the health of their communities,” she said.

Along with the KRHA Conference, UK PAS students were awarded the Second Place Poster Award at the UK’s Center of Excellence in Rural Health’s 2020 Appalachian Research Day.

The poster, “Going the Distance: Perceptions and Practices of Interprofessional Care in Rural Kentucky,” was awarded to Brandon Morehead, Cheyenne Trammel, Fallon Smith, Caitlyn Heep, Mikayla Stumbo, Alexis Robinson and faculty sponsor, Leslie Woltenberg, PhD.

Although interprofessional care has shown to be incredibly effective, the purpose of this project was to uncover the challenges a health professional may face when practicing rural medicine.

Students who participated in the study showed an interest in refining their knowledge and skills, specifically through the use of technology in order to overcome the geographic barriers that exist in rural health.

Woltenberg says she was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with such talented students.

“I am inspired by their passion to serve and determination to make a positive impact for rural Kentuckians,” she said, “As a program, we are so proud of our students and the impressive caliber their masters research projects have showcased.”

The collaboration between the UK PAS Lexington and Morehead campuses has been extremely valuable in shaping the face of rural medicine in Kentucky. “The collaborative work that we do at the Morehead campus of the UK PAS program uniquely prepares future providers for the challenges of rural practice,” Irving said.

UK CHS is proud of all those who contributed to these projects and is excited to see the many ways in which rural health in Kentucky is transformed due to this work!