Rachel Ditoro’s journey as a Physician Assistant (PA) clinician and educator has taken her across the pond—and back—before joining the University's PA program in 2016. Ditoro was one of the first PAs to serve in a pilot project to trial the PA profession in the United Kingdom. Her work there in the early-to-mid 2000s helped in the development of the PA role within England’s nationally-funded healthcare system. She was also part of the interdisciplinary team responsible for creating the curriculum and competencies for the University of Birmingham, one of the first schools to offer the PA graduate degree.
“They didn’t have PAs and I initially did some background research to see how I could work in a healthcare setting there,” Ditoro said. Since the PA profession was not recognized, she lacked the necessary credentials to work with patients, and instead initially worked non-clinically in a London hospital.
At that same time, a group of physician practices in an underserved community in Birmingham, England decided to conduct a trial of the PA profession in the UK. They recruited candidates from the US and received clearance to hire US board-certified physician assistants. Through networking with professional contacts, Ditoro interviewed and landed the position working alongside general practitioners, becoming the first PA to work in England.
England’s National Health System (NHS) was anxious at that time to develop and grow the PA profession within their higher education system. The healthcare field was experiencing a shortage of practitioners, with PAs migrating from overseas to fill jobs. The plan was to create a two-year post-baccalaureate program, similar to the American PA education model. While still working clinically, Ditoro was asked to develop curriculum and professional competencies for the NHS. With her interest in education ignited, when she eventually returned to the States she served as a PA faculty member at her alma mater, Arcadia University.
Fast-forward to Ditoro’s current role as director of Educational Competency and Strategic Innovation within Salus University’s PA program
. In this newly-created position, she is responsible for identifying student competencies required for entry-level clinical practice, as well as assessing performance outcomes and providing tailored remediation for students throughout the program's 25-month curriculum.
Salus University Long White Coat Ceremony 2016
“We make sure students obtain the competencies required by the accrediting and certification bodies to become effective and compassionate clinicians. And, we have evidence-based methods to demonstrate them,” she said. “My role is to ensure our students master these requirements at the point of graduation.”
Now, over a decade later, Ditoro reflects on her experience working with the NHS Department of Health and the University of Birmingham in the development of the PA profession and educational programs. The progression was slow at first.
“It took a little while to get it off its feet and take hold,” she said. “But once it did, it gained momentum. A lot of people wanted to hire PAs, but there weren’t enough PAs to fill the roles. The market was there for employment of PAs so it led to a snowball effect of programs opening.”
Now with nearly 30 programs across the UK, the now aptly named Physician Associate rather than Physician Assistant has become an integral part of the country's healthcare team. Ditoro’s role in this process was key to the development of the PA profession within the healthcare infrastructure as a whole. And, the experience has ultimately had an impact on her as a clinician and educator.
“I was pushed out of my comfort zone [while working on the start-up in the UK] and given an incredible opportunity to realize I had strengths that I had not seen in myself before,” she said. “In my role here at Salus, I work with students to help them find their strengths and ultimately realize their potential as qualified clinicians.”
In addition to serving as associate professor and director of Educational Competency and Strategic Innovation, Ditoro continues to speak nationally on women’s health issues and facilitates workshops for PA educators.
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