Why I teach

Paula Phelps

Paula Phelps, MHE, PA-C, Program Director, Department Chair, was promoted to the Director of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies in 2010. Paula graduated from the University of Utah Physician Assistant Program in 1995 and was the first faculty hire for ISU's PA program. She completed her Master's in Health Education at Idaho State University in 2000. She received her BA in biology and sport movement from Earlham College, where she met her husband, Tad. They are the parents of two daughters.

Why I Teach
I teach because I care deeply about students and want to serve them. My hope is in turn, they will care about patients and will serve them with dignity and passion.

What inspired you to be a university professor?
For me the privilege of teaching provides the opportunity to have a far- reaching impact on patient care by working with students. Our students have the opportunity to positively impact every patient over their lifetime. The college seal at Earlham College, says "kindle a fire and leave it burning". Subconsciously I recognize that's been my life, inspired by my undergraduate education. Impassioned faculty taught me, and as a faculty member at Idaho State University I have the opportunity to pass the torch to future generations of PA's.

When I graduated from PA school in 1995 I planned to work full time as a clinician. I enjoy patient care and my dream was to work in Stanley, Idaho. I had seven clinical job offers, but none from Stanley. At that point in time Tad was in graduate school in at ISU and the ISU PA Program was recruiting its first faculty members to teach the inaugural class. The new ISU PA Program director convinced me to become the first faculty hire - during the first ten years there were only three of us.

I chose the teaching position because it kept me close to my husband while he finished his doctorate at ISU, but once he graduated in 1997 we decided to stay because Pocatello and ISU are an excellent fit for us. Ultimately I realized that I love teaching as well as patient care.

If you weren't a university professor what do you think you would be doing?
That's easy. I would be involved full time in providing patient care - hopefully in Stanley or another rural Idaho community!

What has teaching taught you about yourself?
Teaching is invigorating and challenging. I've learned I don't always have the answers and it's OK to admit what I don't know. This is important, because when you understand the limits of your knowledge it prevents you from being dangerous. Teaching has also helped me develop self- confidence to appreciate what I do know and learn what I don't.

What is the most difficult aspect of teaching?
It helps to have prowess as a juggler! I'm constantly juggling teaching, administrative and family commitments. University work never truly ends!

Is there an identifying moment where you knew you had a pronounced positive impact upon a student?
There isn't one moment, but several times I found out after the fact that I had made a positive impact. Usually, they were times I went the proverbial extra mile to meet students' needs beyond just the educational aspects and found out later how I affected a student. Recently the father of one of my former students came by to tell me how I helped his daughter when the family was facing the death of the student's child. He thanked me. It's important to help people beyond meeting just their educational needs. We're all human and we face issues that touch every aspect of our lives.

What career/life messages do you try to impart upon your students?
I tell my students "to always take care of their folks", who are all the people who touch their lives-patients, co-workers, family and "it is an honor and a privilege to take care of patients". It's also important for them to understand, appreciate and acknowledge that there is an army of unseen volunteer preceptors who have helped provide them the clinical experience/opportunity to become a PA.

What do you want students to take from their ISU educational experience?
I want our ISU students to know they've been well trained and are prepared for the challenges of a clinical practice. I want them to be life-learners. I share the story of baker who makes fresh bread. In order to continue to have fresh bread it needs to be baked every day. The same is true of our profession. In order to keep pace with new knowledge we need to start fresh every day and continue to do so throughout our careers.

Perhaps most importantly our students must always keep in mind that it is a privilege to serve patients and they have a responsibility to give back to the profession so future generations of the brightest and best PAs can be trained.