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Janelle Bludorn, co-host of the Airwaves and Educators podcast and clinical assistant professor in the Physician Assistant Studies program, discussed adaptations in teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic in a recent episode called “COVID Conversations.”

Janelle Bludorn
Janelle Bludorn

Airwaves and Educators is a medical education podcast with a unique focus on physician assistant education. During this unprecedented time in high education, Bludorn and her co-costs have used this platform to connect PA educators, PAs and PA students. Bludorn hopes the podcast will remove the mystique that professors are all-knowing and will show a more human side.

“You never know what the next hurdle or challenge will be,” Bludorn said in regards to going online as academic programs respond to the effects of the pandemic. She said newfound challenges of teaching and learning allows for students and professors to be resilient and adaptable. “We want adaptable clinicians,” she said. “In a way, it’s like we’re role modeling to students.”

The PA program in the Department of Allied Health Sciences enrolls 20 students in each cohort; the first year is didactic in nature, while during the second year, students complete clinical rotations.

Bludorn believes educators who are more agile tend to have an easier time transferring their curricula to online platforms. “It’s a huge challenge, but it’s great practice,” she said. Bludorn said she has adapted her curriculum intentionally and tried to avoid assigning busy work.

“This time is hard on everybody,” Bludorn said. “If you add responsibilities of being a student, faculty, or staff, and balancing personal responsibilities; it’s hard,” Bludorn said. She misses impromptu conversations among professors and students, the relationship building, and doing role-playing activities. However, she has adapted much of her academic coursework to fit a virtual learning environment while trying to maintain the quality and rigor of PA education.

Bludorn said the online environment for PA education gives educators the opportunity to be more deliberate. Bludorn has noticed, for example, that students have tended to use her online office hours as much or perhaps more often than they used in-person office hour opportunities.

Bludorn said the pandemic has led to her reexamination of the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ in her academic courses; specifically, why she delivers content and how she delivers it. Bludorn has taken the approach of a clinician to teaching online, including asking questions of herself, being flexible, and being intentional in student assignments.

She said she expects long-term changes might occur within PA education thanks to the months-long transition to online learning, especially with regard to asynchronous and synchronous learning opportunities.

“Gone are the days of showing up in a lecture hall to passively listen,” Bludorn said. “That should be dedicated to active learning time instead.”

During the pandemic, Bludorn and her co-hosts have discussed myriad topics, including issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This work included a three-part series on anti-racism efforts within the context of PA education. During the series, Airwaves and Educators used their platform to cover topics, inside the clinic and the classroom, of Black PAs.

“It’s great to listen, Bludorn said. “And, we wanted to amplify their voices.”

With the podcast, she wants to make sure PA programs and medical educators don’t feel isolated, no matter the issue. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time,” said Bludorn. “Let’s share what people are doing well.”

The Physician Assistant Studies program is housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences. Janelle Bludorn, MS, PA-C, practices emergency medicine with UNC Health. Paul Chelminski (’95 MD, ’03 MPH) has served as program director since its inception in 2015. Airwaves and Educators additional co-hosts include Kris Maday, an associate professor and program director at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center Physician Assistant Program; Adrian Banning, an assistant professor and research coordinator at Drexel University’s Physician Assistant program; and Shaun Lynch, an assistant professor and academic coordinator at Elon University’s Physician Assistant program.

-Lizzy Laufters, public relations and communications intern