I have been blessed and fortunate enough to have people who were willing to invest in me. It’s my responsibility to pay it forward. One of my favorite quotes is by Mary Church Terrell: ‘lifting as we climb, onward and upward we go.’Nicole Burwell, Ph.D., PA-C, DFAAPA
For September’s edition of #IamNCAPA Member Highlights, the North Carolina Academy of Physician Assistants (NCAPA) sat down with Nicole Burwell, Ph.D., PA-C, DFAAPA, the Department Chair and Program Director of North Carolina A&T State University’s developing Physician Assistant (PA) Program.
Nicole grew up in the Washington DC metropolitan area with her older brother and parents. She comes from a large extended family of many aunts, uncles, cousins, and long lineage of educators. Despite humble beginnings, her family worked together to ensure that everyone had an opportunity to get an education. “These are the values that have helped to shape and define my commitment to improving the broader community,” she explained to the NCAPA.
What is your current role? What specialty?
Nicole has been clinically practicing PA for 25 years in the Primary Care setting of private practice, federal government agencies, and employer-based clinics for corporate and technology companies.
In March 2023, she began serving in a new role as the Department Chair and founding Program Director of the North Carolina Agricultural and Technology State University (North Carolina A&T) PA Program housed in the Hairston College of Health and Human Sciences.
She recently had the honor and pleasure of serving as the Chair of the PA Education Association (PAEA) Doctoral Steering Committee which hosted a Doctoral Summit in March 2023 in Charlotte, NC. Nicole said, “It was a unique opportunity to learn from national stakeholders and key industry experts as we investigated the question of how PAs can continue to meet the future needs of the healthcare workforce and explored the idea of an entry-level doctoral degree in PA education.”
What is your daily routine in your current roles?
Nicole answered, “I will be spending the next several months building the administrative structure of the department and seeking provisional accreditation from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) and the subsequent recruitment of students. The program is planning for the enrollment of our first cohort of students in the fall of 2025.”
“I am honored to serve in this role, and I look forward to building on the great work already being done at one of the top universities nationally in STEM education and upward social mobility.”
Nicole also added, “I just completed a 3-year term as PAEA Director at Large and I am enthusiastically serving as PAEA President-Elect helping to advance the Association’s mission, values, and strategic plan nationwide.”
How do you demonstrate the skills and expertise you learned in PA school in this current role?
“PA school remains one of the most difficult challenges that I have ever incurred,” she told the NCAPA, “but also one of the achievements of which I am the proudest. The same grit, persistence, and determination that takes to get through PA school is what will set you apart as a clinician, educator, and leader.”
Where did you attend PA school?
Nicole completed her PA training at The George Washington University PA Program in Washington, DC. In 1998, she began her clinical career as a National Health Service Corp Scholar in a private practice located in the rural community of Bowling Green, Virginia.
As a compliment to her clinical practice, she completed a Ph.D. in Nutritional Science from Howard University. “As I am seeing more PAs practicing at the cross-section of clinical medicine, and administration, I made the decision to pursue my MBA in Healthcare Management,” she said. “I am currently working on my degree at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.”
What made you decide to be a PA?
“I spent many summers and holidays with my godmother, a primary care nurse,” she began. “Her work included not only clinical care but teaching and community service. She wanted to help patients, but she also recognized the importance of paving the way for future generations. It was remarkable to have an example of such a powerful woman with such a multifaceted career early in life and I wanted to emulate that.”
What is your favorite thing about being a PA?
“My favorite thing about being a PA is introducing this amazing profession to young people aspiring to have a career in the health professions. The importance of mentorship was ingrained in me at a very early age.” She continued, “I have been blessed and fortunate enough to have people who were willing to invest in me. It’s my responsibility to pay it forward. One of my favorite quotes is by Mary Church Terrell: ‘lifting as we climb, onward and upward we go.’”
What made you want to become a member of the NCAPA? Why do you think NCAPA
membership is valuable?
“Over the years, the NCAPA has demonstrated its organizational commitment to members and has been a trailblazer in the areas of professional development, continuing medical education, and advocacy. I am grateful for the strong leadership and how NCAPA seems to always have its finger on the pulse of the issues that are impacting our profession. I am excited about building relationships with the membership, and I look forward to giving my energy and service whenever I can.”
How do you want the PA profession to change in the next 5 or 10 years?
Nicole said, “I would like to see more PAs in clinical leadership and strategic decision-making positions helping to enhance patient care.”
What are some of your passions/interests aside from being a PA?
“Aside from the facets of my professional life, I am a wife and mother of two phenomenal young adults. My son Nicholas is a senior at NYU studying Computer Science, and my daughter, Noelle, is a Junior at Columbia University preparing for a career in the health professions as a Neuroscience major,” she shared proudly.
Her research interests include equity, diversity, inclusion, and workforce issues. “For the past 3 years, I have had the pleasure of serving as Co-Investigator on an outstanding research team that was awarded the prestigious 2019 PAEA Faculty-Generated Research Grant titled What’s Working: A National Assessment of Best Practices in Diversifying the Physician Assistant Workforce.”
“Our findings have resulted in several journal articles, posters, and podium presentations at national and international conferences. I am extremely proud of the work that we have done and the potential it has to inform health professions educational programs on how to impactfully contribute to workforce diversity.”
“I also enjoy service and sisterhood through my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, Inc., which recently inducted United States Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and among six other trailblazing women (including Ambassador Bonnie D. Jenkins, Channing Dungey, Rashida Jones, Tamika Catchings, Debra Lee, and Phyllis Newhouse) who have made significant contributions to society while excelling in their chosen fields.”
If you weren’t a PA, what would you be doing?
Nicole told the NCAPA, “Secretly, I am a reality TV junkie and if I weren’t a PA, I would love to be on a reality TV show. Realistically, I would probably be an educator.”