The students gathered in the skills lab inside the brand-new Duke Hall were discussing a case study of a hypothetical patient. Debating symptoms and considering pathologies, the group worked as a team to think critically through the problem and reach a diagnosis.
This sort of thing happens every day in Randolph-Macon’s Physician Assistant (PA) program, but on this particular day, the discussion was being had by high school students visiting RMC’s campus as a part of the pilot Advanced Healthcare Pathways program in partnership with Alleghany Highlands Public Schools.
The program is funded by the Alleghany Highlands Healthcare Advancement (AHHA) grant through the state of Virginia, with the goal of encouraging interested students to pursue health sciences careers. With a constant need for qualified healthcare professionals, especially in rural areas like Alleghany County, the AHHA grant aims to introduce students to the myriad career opportunities available through Virginia’s higher education institutions, including those beyond becoming a physician. RMC has been involved in the program since its inception, with Erich Grant, RMC’s Department Chair and Program Director for Physician Assistant Studies, serving on its advisory board.
With much of Alleghany Highlands’ existing programming focused on opportunities at the technical or associate’s level of education, RMC’s involvement sought to highlight opportunities at the graduate level, like physician assistants and nurse practitioners.
The visit to RMC’s campus was a culminating event in a series of sessions that included Grant delivering a talk in person at the high school and virtual meetings with healthcare providers from across the state.
During the trip to Ashland, the students used ultrasound devices and participated in the clinical reasoning exercise. After lunch at Estes Dining Hall, they visited Payne Hall to join RMC’s nursing classes, observing exercises on medication administration and neurological assessment.
“I think just being on a college campus is huge, to see the dynamic and the atmosphere, but then also interacting with the health care providers that they’re going to be able to have some hands-on experience with,” said Ginni Phillips, the Alleghany Highlands Healthcare Advancement Coordinator. “I hope that it inspires them to continue with their medical journey and really helps them create a pathway for what they want to do after they graduate.”
For RMC’s PA program, which welcomed its first cohort of students this past January, getting involved in this kind of outreach fits perfectly with its goals.
“One of the stated portions of our mission is to reduce health equity gaps,” Grant said. “Part of that comes with diversifying the workforce and making sure that all of those who can participate as healthcare providers have the opportunity to do so.”
In addition to the hands-on experience in RMC’s state-of-the-art facilities, the trip was valuable for students to build a network of industry professionals with whom they might not otherwise interact.
“We also know that in some parts of the state, access to health care career advisement, exposure, and mentoring is not as easy to come by as it is in others,” Grant said. “If you don’t have those connections naturally through your friends and family or other networks, you may not have a medical person that you can reach out to or shadow or learn from.”
Community outreach efforts, like mentorship provided through the Advanced Healthcare Pathways program, are a priority for RMC’s PA and nursing programs as they help build the future of healthcare.
“We are hoping to grow not just locally, but regionally and nationally known quality within our programs,” Grant said. “We hope that activities like this really show our intent to be community change agents, and to be centers of high-quality training that is invested in authentic learning and quality improvement.”