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Reflections of the 2018-19 student leader fellows

Each year, the LBGT PA Caucus selects a number of PA students to participate in the Student Leader Fellowship program.  This program includes a scholarship to allow the fellows to attend the annual AAPA Conference, as well a a year-long mentorship program, developed and led by LBGT PA Caucus members.

Student fellows are chosen through a competitive selection process that includes an essay, interview, and recommendations of teachers or supervisors.  Fellows are selected based on the following qualities:  integrity, service, leadership, inspiration/overcoming adversity, financial need, innovation, and knowledge, skills and abilities.  You can learn more about the Fellowship program here.

In 2018, the Caucus awarded 3 fellowship positions to:

Christina Wojnarwsky  

Ashwin Gupta

Cooper Couch

Their term as fellows runs until July 2019.

The student fellows have reflected on their experiences at the AAPA Conference as Student Leader Fellows.  

Read below to learn about the fellows.  Here we will feature each of them during their fellowship term.

Ashwin Gupta

2nd year PA student at Temple University

Laissez les bons temps rouler

A commonly used New Orleans-centric phrase, it translates to "let the good times roll." There was never a dull moment during my time as a student fellow at the AAPA Conference.

Last year, I felt anxious upon starting PA school in a new city, and new environment. Thankfully, my program pairs everyone with a student from the previous cohort – similar to a mentor/mentee relationship - at the very least, to help establish some kind of community within and/or beyond the walls of school. I was naturally drawn to my mentor because I soon found that we were openly gay. It was through her that I was told and encouraged to pursue a fellowship through the LBGT PA Caucus.

After connecting with a faculty member, he served as a strong supporter and advocate for my application. I have many people to thank for this opportunity, starting with these two individuals. Nevertheless, throughout my time leading up to the Conference, and especially during it – my most sincere gratitude is to the Board and members of the Caucus who so graciously allowed me to connect, network, lead, and most importantly, be myself in my element.

My time at the Conference started with officially meeting my other co-fellows. We initially were given a schedule that was very well written and addressed our where- and whatabouts. It was in the House of Delegates (HOD) sessions each morning where I felt my learning and aspirations emerged. At first, it was an intimidating and, at times, a very convoluted process and system. However, I realized that this is where the delegates finally gather once a year to discuss a multitude of issues, concerns, and motions.

With a background in public health and healthcare management, I know that I am grateful to have had HOD exposure because I look forward to bridging the gap between policy and practice, in LGBT modules and public health topics.

Outside of policy, this being my first AAPA Conference experience, the Caucus recognizes student development is so vital tobeing an astute medical provider. That being said, I used my time outside of the HOD sessions to connect with Assembly of Representatives (AOR) representatives from my region. I sat in this arena to hear what kind of dialog and discussion occur because I wanted to become familiar with what concerns or issues other students were facing. My learning was further augmented though CME sessions and programming. Of course, I was happy to see my fellow ‘out’ and openly LGBT-identified friends and mentors giving talks. Not only was I there to support fellow Caucus members, I was also happy to see that my interests in primary care and infectious disease aligned with a number of the sessions.

With the funding help of the scholarship, I was able to make the trip to New Orleans; I gained new friends and mentors, hopeful future colleagues, and a breadth of inspiration and motivation. Going forth, I will forever remember this experience because of the tremendous amount of medical and policy knowledge I have gained in just a matter of days. New Orleans is a true gem. I sincerely think we have, and will continue, to “let the good times roll” for years to come as members of the LBGT Caucus.

Cooper Couch

2nd year PA student at University of Southern California

From the moment I discovered the LBGT PA Caucus, I knew I had found my community. My experience as a Student Leader Fellow has empowered me to continue standing up for equality, connected me with courageous leaders in LGBTQ+ healthcare, and introduced me to a supportive community of lifelong friends.

I was extremely impressed by how much work the LBGT PA Caucus Board and its dedicated members put into creating an impactful presence at the 2018 AAPA Conference in New Orleans. The House of Delegates (HOD) passed 12 resolutions submitted by the Caucus to recognize non-binary gender identities in the AAPA Policy Manual, and the Caucus gave testimony to clarify the difference between sex and gender in other resolutions. It was an eye-opening experience to sit on the floor while the HOD was in session and learn from PA leaders about the direction of our profession, especially in regard to equality and inclusion.

I was thrilled to see rooms packed full of PAs interested in learning how to better care for their LGBTQ+ patients in the CME lectures presented by Caucus members. I was inspired by the academic work presented by Caucus members because the questions from the audience made me realize the importance of educating fellow PAs on LGBTQ+ healthcare issues. It was outstanding to see so many people come to our booth in the exhibit hall to get a rainbow sticker for their nametag to show support or ask questions about how to improve healthcare for LGBTQ+ patients.

I felt like part of a true community at the social events hosted by the Caucus throughout the conference. I made lifelong friends with people of all ages and experienced an overwhelming sense of community. The Second Line Parade through the French Quarter of New Orleans was a blast! It felt like a Pride Parade for PAs and their family and friends, and it was a joy to see people from all walks of life come together to support the LGBTQ+ community and commemorate where the Caucus was first formed.

It was humbling to hear how far we’ve come from PA Maggie Snyder, recipient of the 2018 AAPA Humanitarian of the Year Award, and her partner Dr. Kristen Ries at our Annual Reception for LGBT Health Equity. That was the moment when everything came full circle for me, and I realized how many years of dedication has gone into advancing our society to where we are today.

There is still a lot of work to be done, but I am confident that staying engaged with the Caucus will allow me to contribute towards our vision of health outcomes being independent of social determinants. I’m so grateful to everyone who made this experience possible and look forward to giving back!

Christina Wojnarwsky

2nd year PA student at Shenandoah University

My experience at conference far exceeded my expectations.  I can’t even begin to describe how good it feels to have found “my tribe.”  It is a pretty surreal feeling to finally be surrounded by people who you don’t have to justify yourself to and who are excited by your passion rather than feel as if you are overbearing.  The fellowship allowed me an opportunity to finally let my voice be heard.

I think working the Caucus exhibit booth was really motivating.  I was very impressed with the number of providers that came to visit, but even more so with the students.  They were so interested in being engaged and asking about how to have a voice at their schools, especially in regard to incorporating LGBT health into their curriculum.  To see so many students fired up about wanting to make a change was really inspiring.

My favorite part of conference was probably getting the opportunity to sit in on the House of Delegates (HOD) meetings with a mentor from the Caucus.  I remember Diane Bruessow, Director of Policy and Education for the LBGT PA Caucus, telling us we would either love it or hate it, and I realized that I definitely love it.  A lot of people don’t realize how important the words we choose are, and I think that’s what is so fascinating about policy.  My goal when applying to this fellowship was to make the connections I needed to keep my momentum going with my passion for LGBT health equity and finding ways to get involved, and I think I more than met that goal.  It was such a great feeling to be surrounded by so many people who wanted to help me succeed.  I was very pleased that we passed 16 resolutions in the HOD to remove all binary gender references from AAPA policy, and continue to make great strides in LGBT health equity.

It was amazing to see how many people were present at our CME events, especially during Diane Bruessow’s Fast Fifteen panel on treating transgender patients.  The room was jam packed!  It was awesome to have so many people come up to the booth saying that they would love to see more CMEs from us, especially a longer session on transgender health.  It’s exciting to see providers and students interested and willing to make changes.  I look forward to continuing to work with the Caucus and having a strong presence at conference.  

The second line parade was definitely an unforgettable experience.  We took over the city of NOLA, and it was a huge hit!  I cannot wait to see how we plan to one up our event next year.  It was very humbling to get the opportunity to meet Maggie Snyder, AAPA 2018 Humanitarian of the Year.  She was so encouraging, and it really instilled in me the faith and confidence I needed to help realize that I can make a difference.

I left conference feeling recharged and hopeful.  Being around so many other PAs and PA students who are passionate about LGBT health equity is so empowering.  The voice we have in this profession is so important, and I’m so proud of how strong it is.  I am currently in my clinical year of PA school, and I’ve already noticed the positive impact the Caucus and the fellowship have had on my practice as a future clinician.  I know this fellowship was only the beginning to working as a leader for LGBT health equity, and I am extremely excited to see what the future holds. 

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