Unprecedented, unpredictable, exhausting, unimaginable, a nightmare. These are just some of the words used to describe 2020, the year which took the Duke Physician Assistant Program on an unexpected and eye-opening journey. A global pandemic, racial reckoning, and a never-ending election season which challenged the fabric of our democracy, presented our program with obstacles like no other time in its 55-year history.
In spite of this mind-boggling journey which began on March 10, 2020, after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, the phenomenal PA program team leaned on each other, our institution, community partners and our dedicated alumni to confront the enormous difficulties of the time. We had to shift our curriculum delivery to virtual and hybrid formats, revise the clinical year schedule, create virtual elective courses, re-sequence the curriculum, and plan for the first-ever virtual orientation and admission cycle. While pivoting nearly every aspect of our program to respond to the COVID-19 mandates, we were also in the middle of finalizing and submitting a modified self-study for continuing accreditation.
In the midst of a pandemic that had forever changed our daily lives, America was also forced to reckon with its 400-plus-year history of racism. The Duke PA program condemned the violent acts against and deaths of Black lives, and took a firm stance against racism and the systemic processes that perpetuate it. We participated in various local and national town halls to put a voice to racial inequity and racism, and joined in Duke’s campus-wide “Moments to Movement” march and the White Coats for Black Lives activism to acknowledge the longstanding racial injustices locally and across the country. Parallel to the advocacy activities to address racism, members of the Duke PA program also engaged in promoting democracy through volunteering in bipartisan election activities to support voter registration efforts.
To address the multitude of challenges confronting us, we reached out to alumni for assistance, and they immediately answered the call by supporting the program’s most urgent needs including lecturing, small group teaching, grading, precepting, and helping with admissions. While we faced unprecedented challenges in 2020, our extraordinary team worked together, met our goals, and achieved success in ways we could not have imagined just one year ago. Of course, what has made our faculty and staff the proudest is that every student successfully progressed through the program—the Class of 2020 graduated on time! We could not have asked for a better outcome for our wonderful students who showed such grace and grit through it all.
We extend our heartfelt thanks to the Duke community and our alumni for their unwavering support which allowed us to overcome monumental obstacles in 2020. While we are not out of the woods of the pandemic or the racial reckoning in America, we are a better and more versatile program because of what we experienced and achieved together over the past year. Yes, it really does take a village, and we are so grateful that our incredible alumni are such a vital part of our Duke PA village!