How Three Board Certified PAs are Working to Bring More Racial and Ethnic Diversity to the PA Profession  

According to the NCCPA’s 2022 Statistical Profile of Board Certified PAs, Black/African-American PAs make up just over three percent of all PAs. February is Black History Month, and NCCPA is turning the spotlight on three PA-Cs who are working to diversify the profession.

Jasmine Cofield, PA-C, Takeia Horton, MMSc, PA-C, MPH and Kathryn Reed, PA-C, understand the importance of diversity in health care and its impact on patients.

In addition to being Black, female PAs, Cofield, Horton, and Reed have something else in common – they each are founders of organizations dedicated to diversifying the PA profession and improving patient outcomes, particularly in Black communities.

“Historically, our profession has been part of the solution to bridging the gap between the medical community and vulnerable populations,” said Cofield, founder and president of Physician Assistants of Color (The PAC). “Patient care inevitably improves when diversity in the PA profession increases.”

Research shows that patient care outcomes improve significantly when patients receive care from providers who are of the same race/ethnicity.

“Diversity in the PA profession is important because race concordance between providers and patients has been show to mitigate the impacts of bias and improve health outcomes,” said Reed, founder of the National Society of Black Physician Assistants (NSBPA). NSBPA focuses on eradicating health disparities, especially in Black communities, by increasing the number of Black PA students through mentorship, shadowing sessions and interactive member forums.

For Horton, mentorship is critical to increasing diversity not only in the PA profession but also in leadership spaces within the health care system. “I did not have great access to minority mentors in the medical profession or in leadership” she said.

“This shaped my desire and passion for mentoring students of color and those from marginalized communities.” Horton founded DiversityPA to connect and mentor pre-PA students and current PA students by offering educational resources and lectures, resume review, assistance with the PA school application process, and other resources. She is also focusing now on increasing diversity in the spaces of PA leadership and professional development and advocating for PAs to develop their own leadership skills.

Why is diversity in the PA profession important? Cofield says diversity matters because PAs need to reflect the communities they serve. Horton believes it helps “foster trust between providers and patients.” Reed adds that a patient’s choice of providers should “include someone with whom they believe they have similar lived experiences and can trust based on shared identity or identities.”

The journey towards diversity in the PA profession isn’t without challenges such as bias and stereotyping of PAs of color.

Cofield, Horton, and Reed have seen and, in some cases, experienced bias towards Black PAs in the field. Reed recalls a recent experience where a patient immediately assumed that she was a dietary aide or a member of the nursing team. “The immediate assumption by patients that a Black woman cannot possibly be the provider is telling.” 

She hopes to overcome this and other assumptions about PAs of color by educating patients and health care professionals, and by continuing to provide the highest level of care.