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Education: Higher Education

Inspiring a Career of Partnership and Service: Physician Assistants

  • Grade level: 6–8
  • subject: health education

Time Needed

Three 45-minute class periods


Students learn about physician assistants, commonly called PAs, as health care professionals that practice medicine as part of a team. Students become aware that PAs diagnose, treat, and care for patients in collaboration with doctors.

This lesson uses multiple online sources—a video, biographies, and an exhibition—in order to introduce students to what a PA is and what a PA does. As students use several online sources for class activities and assignments, they learn to apply MLA, Chicago, or a class-established bibliography format to cite online sources used in their work. In addition, students conduct guided research, then create display boards about what they have learned about PAs. Students will demonstrate their knowledge through displays and individual essays that describe their understanding of the PAs’ roles and contributions in health care.

  • learning outcomes

    Students will be able to:
    • Describe what a PA is and does.
    • Provide examples of specific accomplishments and contributions of PAs.
    • Cite online sources correctly in MLA, Chicago, or a class-established bibliography format.
    • Demonstrate critical observation skills and effective reading comprehension through oral and written summaries.
  • Background Information

    Physician Assistants: Collaboration and Care is an online exhibition that highlights the accomplishments of physician assistants, commonly known as PAs, and the ways in which PAs respond to patients’ needs. The exhibition features examples of PAs who work collaboratively with physicians to diagnose, treat, and care for patients in order to provide the best possible care. These case studies offer insights into PAs’ diverse and dynamic work environments, professional collaborators, and communities that they serve. Teachers are encouraged to preview all six exhibition sections online for determining appropriate level language and technology literacy instructions for students.

    In addition, teachers may collaborate with school librarians or other colleagues in determining appropriate source citation styles that adhere to the school’s policies and practices. As an example, this lesson provides the MLA- and Chicago-style citation resources that Library of Congress makes available online at its “Teachers” site. See Class 2, Step 3 in the procedures section.

  • Vocabulary

    The following words and phrases may be introduced or incorporated into the lesson:

    • Victor H. Germino, Jr. biography: curriculum, orthopedic, byssinosis, commissioned, warrant officer, compliance, auditor, occupational medicine, EMS (acronym for Emergency Medical Services), debriefing, charter member
    • Joyce Nichols biography: corpsman, cardiac, matriarch, preceptor, dwindle, adjunct faculty, legal concessions
    • Henry Lee “Buddy” Treadwell biography: proprietary trained, prototypical, orderly, urinalysis, pneumonia, sutures, general practice, diagnostic referrals, community-based clinical training, proponents, resident and attending (in medical setting), liability
  • Materials

    Print All Materials
    Other materials and set-ups:
  • class 1 procedures

    1. First, assess students’ existing knowledge of or experiences with PAs (physician assistants). For example, write down the acronym PA and ask students what the letters stand for. If helpful, provide a hint that this is one of many health care occupations.
    2. Display the “Become a PA” web page and introduce that the AAPA (American Academy of Physician Assistants) website offers information about what a PA is and does. Read aloud the description of a PA on the right of the video image. Then watch the video on the page, titled “Why do you love being a PA?” (1:06).
    3. Guide a brief class discussion using the questions below. Ask students to support their answers with specific information from the video or the web page:
      • What is a PA?
      • What does a PA do?
      • What does being a PA mean to the PAs in the video?
    4. Summarize the class discussion and tell students that they will learn more about being a PA by reading biographies of three people.
    5. Introduce Henry Lee “Buddy” Treadwell, Joyce Nichols, or Victor H. Germino, Jr., using the online biographies on the Physician Assistant History Society’s website. Give students either physical copies of or online access to the biographies. [Optionally, use additional biographies of Robin Hunter-Buskey, Dawn Morton-Rias, Donald M. Pedersen, and Kathy Pedersen from one of the extension activities.
    6. Divide the class into groups of 3–4 students per group, then assign a biography to each group, distributing the three biographies evenly among the groups. Hand out copies of Biography Activity and review the three tasks outlined on the activity handout as a class.
    7. Allow groups to work on the tasks and provide alerts for groups to move from one task to the next. [Optionally, extend this class to 2 periods and conduct the activity as a class, providing necessary instructions before each task then assessing students’ work afterwards.]
    8. Call the class together and have several students volunteer to share what they found interesting from the biography. Record students’ comments to use in Class 2 Step 2.
    9. Collect completed activity sheets from students for evaluation. If more time is needed, have students complete and bring back their activity sheets to next class.
    10. Class 1 Evaluation: Teachers evaluate students’ understanding and learning progress through class discussions, observations of student groups’ activities, and each student’s completed Biography Activity.
  • class 2 procedures

    1. Display the biographical timelines grouped by each person— Henry Lee “Buddy” Treadwell, Joyce Nichols, and Victor H. Germino, Jr.—and have students view them as a warm-up activity.
    2. Remind students of what they found interesting from reading three biographies (Class 1, Step 7) and draw connections to related items on students’ timelines.
    3. Review the source citations of the online biographies on students’ timelines. As needed, review how online sources are cited in the bibliographic formats used by the class. Alternatively, create a citation guide for the class, working with a school librarian or using a reference, such as the MLA or Chicago styles provided on “Citing Primary Sources,” a resource page on the Library of Congress’ “Teachers” website.
    4. Tell students that they will follow the citation format for the bibliography of sources used in the upcoming group presentation and individual essay assignments about the PA profession.
    5. Distribute copies of Group and Individual Assignments to the class. Review the handout as a class and address any questions before students work on their assignments.
    6. Provide online access to the list of pre-selected sources or arrange for students to conduct their research in the school media center.
    7. Allow students to work on their group presentation assignment and guide presentation development as needed.
    8. Remind students that their essays are due at the beginning of next class and they will set up and view all groups’ display boards during next class as well.
    9. Class 2 Evaluation: Teachers evaluate students’ understanding and learning progress through class discussions after the warm-up activity and the review of the course citations at the beginning of the class. During the class, teachers continue to assess and correct any misinformation as groups work together on the display board assignment.
  • class 3 procedures

    1. Collect from students their essays for assessment, then allow groups to finish and set up their display boards around the classroom.
    2. Hand out copies of Gallery Walk: Display Assessment to students and allow them to view all display boards and write responses to questions 1–5 on the handout.
    3. Discuss as a class students’ responses to the question on the handout. For question 5, allow groups to respond to any questions from other students.
    4. Facilitate the class discussion while clarifying and correcting any misconceptions or misinformation.
    5. Read aloud question 6 for the class then give students time to reflect and write their responses on the handout.
    6. In addition to students’ essays, collect the display boards and completed Gallery Walk: Display Assessment from students for evaluation.
    7. Class 3 Evaluation: Teachers collect students’ essays and group display boards for final evaluation.
  • Extension Activities

    • Introduce students to the additional biographies of Robin Hunter-Buskey, Dawn Morton-Rias, Donald M. Pedersen, and Kathy Pedersen, available at the Physician Assistant History Society’s Biographies web page. Have students work in small groups to create picture books of these PAs’ stories that they can read and give to younger students.
    • Identify local PA professional or student organizations and invite one or more PA students or professionals as guest speakers for the class. Prepare students to brainstorm a list of questions then conduct a question-and-answer session after each PA’s introduction. Assign students homework to write a summary of the class discussion with the PA guest(s) at the beginning of the next class.
    • For students interested in health care professions, assign students to research and create information sheets about PAs and 2 other health professionals—such as registered nurses, emergency medical technicians, orthopedic surgeons, etc.
    • Conduct a group project that allows each member of a group to gather and share information on different specialties that PAs may pursue. Require students to use online PA program information or a phone interview of the program representative.
  • Common Core State Standards

    • Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.
    • Write informative texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.
    • Formulate citations for research sources.
    Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
    • Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
    • Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and link to and cite sources as well as to interact and collaborate with others, including linking to and citing sources.