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The Physician Assistant Studies DEI Committee hosted a mentor/mentee luncheon on November 18, 2022, for the incoming class of PA students.

The luncheon was held at The Friday Center and included lunch, icebreakers, guest speakers and time for mentors and mentees to get to know each other.

Chileatha Wynn, Director of Clinical Education and Assistant Professor for the PA program kicked off the gathering with an introduction of the mentorship program. She shared that the idea started from conversations with students about their experiences in physician assistant spaces and some of the challenges underrepresented students have faced in classroom and clinical settings.

“Our hope is this program will establish connections so you can get advice from people who have also overcome these challenges,” said Wynn. “Our goals are connection, support and community.”

Sharonda Jackson, a 2021 graduate of the PA program, spoke to the group about her personal experience as a nontraditional student – she started PA school at age 45. “Everyone in this room has earned their position,” said Jackson. “You’re here to help us build a better healthcare system because of your background, experiences and challenges. It’s an opportunity to turn those challenges into tools to serve your patients.”

Dr. Stephen Hooper, Associate Dean of Medicine and Chair of the Department of Health Sciences, noted that out of more than 700 complete applications, only 20 people were selected to be a part of the incoming class. From there, 50-70 percent of the incoming class is considered diverse in its various definitions. “We’ve been waiting for you,” said Hooper. “You’ve set the bar high and are the most diverse group of PA students and any group of students within our department. We’re proud of the PA program for getting the best of the best – you.”

Hooper noted that a diverse student population better mimics North Carolina’s population, which makes for better patient care and perspective.

The PA program offers a variety of resources and support to students, and these were introduced during the gathering. Donna Murray represented the PA Education Association and told students to “remember your why,” especially when challenges arise within the program.

Dr. Kunal Jakharia, an Assistant Professor of Medicine who works with PA students during their time in the program, shared a message of “unity in diversity” – a concept that is embraced in his home country of India. His journey to UNC-Chapel Hill was filled with challenges, but he emphasized the need for hard work, a solid support system and mentors to drive success.

“We’re here for the human connection, and it’s all about the journey,” said Jakkharia.

To conclude the luncheon, Dr. Nate Thomas, Vice Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the School of Medicine and Associate Professor in Psychiatry, introduced the STAHR Mentorship Program. STAHR stands for Students in Training, Academia, Health and Research. The program was designed to build community, develop skills, access a wide support network, develop social and cultural capital, foster cooperative learning and celebrate each other through monthly workshops and additional small group meetings.

Following the presentations, mentors and mentees had the opportunity to ask questions, meet each other and socialize. The first-year students begin their time in the PA program in January 2023.