Celebrating Black PAs 2018

Sonya Earley PA-C, MA, CDE

1)    Where did you attend PA school?

I attended Charles R. Drew Physician Assistant School and trained at Martin Luther King Hospital in South Central Los Angeles. 

2)    What initially attracted you to becoming a PA?
Sonya Earley, Black History Month

I always knew that I wanted to work in the medical field.  In high school, I obtained my CNA license and before entering UCLA, I worked for a nursing registry in Home Healthcare.  However, while attending UCLA, as a Kinesiology/ Pre-Med major, I thought I wanted to go into Physical Therapy, so I worked as a Physical Therapy Aide.  As a Pre-Med Major, I knew medicine was the end goal, but it wasn’t until I went to visit a close friend whose sister was currently attending USC’s PA Program studying for finals, did I realize that was the field for me.  Since that time, I have loved the profession. Becoming a Physician Assistant has been a perfect fit for me. 

3)    Since practicing, what is something that has made you more passionate about being a PA?

As a Physician Assistant, I am most passionate about patient care and education.  I really enjoy when patients understand their disease and what it will take to make their condition better. My experience has taught me that patients, who obtain the best results, ultimately are those with the best understanding (knowledge) about their condition.  Seeing patients understand and be equipped to manage their disease process is most rewarding. 

4)    What specialty are you currently practicing in?

I am currently practicing in the field of Diabetes (Endocrine) at Kaiser Permanente Orange County.  After completing PA School, I completed a Pediatric Residency Program for Physician Assistants at LAC + USC Women’s and Children’s Hospital.  I worked in the field of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes, for an Insulin Pump Company and Kaiser Permanente Orange County.  In addition, I am also a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE).  As a PA and CDE, I have been able to work with patients of all ages to help manage their diabetes and develop healthy lifestyles. Additionally, I am an Instructor of Clinical Medicine at USC Keck School of Medicine and a local PA School. 

5)    What do you like most about the specialty?

What I like most is that the specialty has given me opportunities to treat patients, teach classes, practice in-home health care, consult with family, friends and community members, and also informs my work with the California State Physician Assistant Board.  Furthermore, this understanding of pediatric and adult diabetes has enabled me to personally address and work to eradicate one of the “silent killers” in our community. 

6)    Are you involved in any other healthcare related organizations, programs, volunteer/outreach opportunities?

Yes, I am a member of the California Physician Assistant Board.  I was appointed by Governor Brown in 2013 and recently reappointed for another 4 years.  This is highly rewarding and ultimately the board members protect the patient consumers of California.  This is humbling as well as empowering since our job is to protect and serve.  I also serve on a Legislative Committee within the California Physician Assistant Board.  In addition, I am also a member of California Academy of Physician Assistants (CAPA). 

7)    What does being a black, female PA mean to you?

Being an African American female Physician Assistant, allows me to serve as a role model for African American girls and young women so that they can see themselves in similar positions practicing medicine in various capacities.  It’s important for young women of color to see African American females in the medical arena so that they can aspire to be whatever they choose to become and pursue opportunities in STEM careers. 

8)    What role have you played in making black history?

I’m not sure if I’m playing a role yet, but I am doing my best to sustain the impact of those historic African American medical professionals that have gone before me.  I am currently the only African American female on the California Physician Assistant Board.  I recognize that I “stand on the shoulders of giants” and my responsibility is to continue the legacy of excellence.  I can never repay those men and women for the sacrifice they made to open doors for me, but I can hopefully pay it forward, and open new doors and build bridges for those who come after me. 

9)    Why is diversity important in the healthcare field?

Diversity is critical in the health care field.  It is important that diverse cultures and ethnicities are represented in the community of providers.  Diversity may be the link to improving medical care for certain populations because often patients will listen to and more quickly respond to someone with whom they have a “cultural” connection.  However, just as important as diversity in the profession, is cultural competency.  It is critical that providers of all cultures and ethnicities have an awareness, compassion and sensitivity to the nuances of the cultural dynamics of their patients. I believe making personal and medical connections are critical in improving health care.   This can only happen with an understanding of cultures. 

10)    Can you give an example of how practicing with cultural competency increased the quality of care you provided for a patient?

Caring for populations (other than my own) greatly affected with diabetes, has allowed be to learn and teach beyond my lived cultural experience, and effectively manage my patients better.  For instance, in terms of diabetes, certain cultural foods may be beneficial to eat while other foods in other cultures may cause adverse blood glucose effects. However, when you can relate to a patients’ cultural differences, having tasted certain foods, and are familiar with the cultural significance of the preparation, you can build trusting relationships that allow you to influence and support patients in their treatment. 

11)    What can be done to increase the number of African American healthcare providers?

I think what is needed to increase the number of African American Physician Assistants is early outreach and education about the PA profession.  Prospective students should know what is expected to become a PA early in their schooling, so that students can best prepare themselves during high school and college.  In addition, undergraduate colleges should consider moving to a joint Baccalaureate /Masters PA Program.  Upon college entrance at a 4 year university, prospective PA students should be selected into the PA program and matriculate through.  Upon graduation, PA students should be qualified to sit for your PANCE examination and have a plethora of employment opportunities directly after PA School.

Josie Hunt, PA-C, MPH

1.      Where did you attend PA school?

Touro University California Joint MSPAS/MPH Program

2.      What initially attracted you to becoming a PA?

I had been interested in medicine since my childhood. Due to family circumstances, I was exposed to physicians, nurses and hospitals frequently when I was younger. When I attended university, I decided to pursue a degree with the intent to apply to medical school. However, when I graduated, I had this feeling that it wasn’t the right decision. So, instead, I took time off, worked clinically, and, in the meantime, was introduced to the PA career through a family friend. After researching the field, I felt being a PA was the best choice for me and one that would afford me the opportunity to still practice medicine and serve those in need.

3.      Since practicing, what is something that has made you more passionate about being a PA?

Seeing people change for the better. Being able to empower patients to make positive changes in their life is very rewarding.

4.      What specialty are you currently practicing in?Josie Hunt, PA-C, MPH

I currently practice in general pediatrics.

5.      What do you like most about the specialty?

Children (of all ages) are so special. They are smart, kind, honest and funny! There’s this amazing, exponential growth and development that occurs with kids. And I feel honored that patients and their families share that with me.

6.      Are you involved in any other healthcare related organizations, programs, volunteer/outreach opportunities?  

Our state and national PA associations, CAPA and AAPA, respectively. I am also involved in various volunteer projects through my religious organization.

7.      What does being a black, female PA mean to you?

It means doing my best to serve every one of my patients. My obligation to take care of them is something I do not take lightly.

8.      What role have you played in making black history?

While I don’t think I’ve “made history” in any particular way, I’ve made it a goal to continue to grow, learn and help those in need. And hopefully, if I can encourage and inspire others to do the same, then I will have left a positive mark on my legacy.

9.      Why is diversity important in the healthcare field?

I think it’s important because it should be a representation of the diverse communities in which we live. It promotes high-quality, empathetic care and creates an environment where patients feel heard and understood.

10.  Can you give an example of how practicing with cultural competency increased the quality of care you provided for a patient?

I have learned so much from my patients and, as a result, they have made me a better, more culturally competent provider. While at times humbling, I am eternally grateful for these experiences that have allowed me to come to understand, respect and celebrate my patients and the relationships I have with them.

11.  What can be done to increase the number of African American healthcare providers?

I think it starts young, in grade school and high school, encouraging and supporting those with an interest in the science and healthcare fields to pursue their dream. It involves raising awareness of the various healthcare career options. It’s also important to continue to have positive role models for students to emulate. 

Lamont Hunter, PA-C, MPH

1.      Where did you attend PA school? 

I’m a proud graduate of Touro's Joint PA/MPH program. I was a part of the first full class (2006).

2.      What initially attracted you to becoming a PA?

I always consider myself the “accidental PA” because the profession found me more than me finding it. In 2006, I was in the middle of completing my second unsuccessful application cycle to medical school that included both MD and DO schools. One of the osteopathic programs that I applied to was Touro. Unfortunately, Touro did not accept me into the DO program but felt that my experience and education was ideal for their new PA/MPH program. At the time, I had never worked with a PA and never knew that it was an option to accomplish my goal of taking care of patients. After talking to a great physician friend who had worked closely with PAs and spoke highly of them, I went ahead and accepted the offer for interview. I was accepted soon after the interview and started school about 3 months later!!!

Lamont Hunter, PA-C, MPH3.      Since practicing, what is something that has made you more passionate about being a PA?

My passion is continually renewed with every opportunity that I have to teach and mentor prospective PA students. I also love taking care of patients and talking with them and their families.

4.      What specialty are you currently practicing in?

Emergency medicine for the last 10+ years.

5.      What do you like most about the specialty?

The variety of patients that we care for is the most enjoyable part of working in emergency medicine. Everything from simple cough and colds to abdominal and chest pain to lacerations keeps our days really interesting.

6.      Are you involved in any other healthcare related organizations, programs, volunteer/outreach opportunities? 

Currently I am a board member for the Society of Emergency Medicine PAs (SEMPA).  SEMPA’s mission is to advance, protect, and promote the role of EMPAs. The board supports the professional and personal growth of EMPAs through education, advocacy, networking and research. I am completing my second year as a Director at Large and was recently elected as Vice President for the upcoming term.   

7.      What does being a black, male PA mean to you? 

Being a PA means that I have been given an opportunity to care for patients usually during some of their most difficulty and vulnerable times. With this opportunity comes the enormous responsibility to come to work prepared to help them in any way that I can. Black medical professionals are unfortunately underrepresented in every practice setting. I hope I serve as a role model to all prospective PAs, both black and nonblack, to motivate them in their medical pursuits.

8.      What role have you played in making black history?

I’m not sure of my role in black history, but I work to be the best PA and best husband and father that I can be. I just try to live my life to the fullest everyday.

9.      Why is diversity important in the healthcare field?

I think diversity of background, opinion and of experience is vital for our patient population. Familiarity breeds comfort and I think having providers who can understand all of the unique circumstances that our patients encounter is crucial to providing excellent care. 

10.  Can you give an example of how practicing with cultural competency increased the quality of care you provided for a patient?

I have had the chance to work in some pretty diverse communities throughout my career. From my years caring for poorer, mostly minority patients in the Bay Area to currently working in the small, more affluent city of Santa Barbara, I have been fortunate to work with people from all walks of life. I think I’ve been effective in every setting because I try my best to understand the cultural differences and needs of all of my patients.

11.  What can be done to increase the number of African American healthcare providers? Mentorship is a crucial to increase the number of African American providers in healthcare. It is important for young Black boys and girls to see people who look like them working as nurses, doctors, and PAs. The impact of these positive images cannot be overstated. Currently in social media, the hashtag #BlackMenInMedicine has gained popularity to highlight Black male providers and the great care they provide across the country. Initiatives like this definitely encourage increased interests in medicine in our underrepresented communities.

Rosie Holiwell, PA-C

1.       Where did you attend PA school?

I attended Western University in Pomona, California.

2.       What initially attracted you to becoming a PA?

I was initially attracted to becoming a PA because of the positive experience associated with the birth of my son which showed me there is a positive side to medicine, that of giving life. This experience and evaluation, the ability to diagnose and treat patients, and being able to help others contributed to my desire to attend PA school.

Rosie Holiwell, Celebrating Black PAs

3.       Since practicing, what is something that has made you more passionate about being a PA?

Since starting my practice 16 years ago, my passion about being a PA has grown. Early in my PA career I had an African-American, 33-year-old, male patient that complained of unilateral muscle weakness and pain with multiple fluid filled masses on the upper and lower extremities. At the time, I was new to Bakersfield but he presented as a text-book case of Valley Fever (coccidioidomycosis). He had been dismissed by several doctors as being in a drunker stupor prior to seeing me. 

4.       What specialty are you currently practicing in?

I am currently practicing in dermatology.

5.       What do you like most about the specialty?

I once thought that Dermatology would be simple, repetitive, or mundane. However, when you think of it, your skin is the largest organ in your body, so when a patient comes in with either severe scarring acne or extensive plaque psoriasis and we are able to create a treatment plan to completely clear their skin, the patient is more than grateful. Work can’t get any better than that! 

6.       Are you involved in any other healthcare related organizations, programs, volunteer/outreach opportunities?

 I enjoy volunteering for various free skin cancer screening clinics around town. I have also done speaking lectures for numerous pharmaceutical companies that I believe in and I am a member/attendee to CAPA, SDPA, KNPPAA, Pri-med. 

7.       What does being a black, female PA mean to you?

Being a black female PA means that I have an opportunity to help and care for others and to make a difference in my patient’s life. I have a chance to serve other people to the best of my abilities using the gifts that were given to me by God. It means respect and pride in my career and the journey I took to get there.

8.       What role have you played in making black history?

I graduated high school as a black 17-year-old female with a two-year-old daughter. I then worked for the same company for 20 years working my way up from a entry level grader to a Product Engineer while raising my daughter. While working I also attended night and weekend-classes to complete my prerequisites for the PA program. With that being said, I feel my role in black history is still in the makings. 

9.       Why is diversity important in the healthcare field?

California is a state with overwhelming diversity, and to be a good healthcare provider you need to incorporate cultural differences into your practice. You have to be able to produce trust and respect with not only your patients but also co-workers.

10.   Can you give an example of how practicing with cultural competency increased the quality of care you provided for a patient?

Understanding the culture of Arabic people when treating them in dermatology setting increases the quality of care. An otherwise healthy 28-year-old female came in with a full Hijab, complaining of hair loss for months. Upon examination, the hair loss was generalized hair thinning. The pull test was negative, scalp was healthy, and no sign of alopecia noted. Labs were ordered, which showed significant vitamin D loss, likely due to the garments the patient wears as she leaves the house. The patient was informed of the results and a plan for treatment was created. The patient was grateful for knowing her diagnosis and the improvement from the treatment.

11.   What can be done to increase the number of African American healthcare providers?

In order to increase the number of African-American providers in healthcare, we first need to recognize and accept the positive benefits afforded by its increase. We need to educate the African-American community on the impact of the increase and provide resources at an early age. This includes preparation for honors classes in high school, emphasizing various subjects in college to maintain a good GPA, and working in the community to give back. We need more mentors for the young and up-and-coming professionals.