Allied Health Faculty Presentations


Why We Left: A Qualitative Investigation of Former PA faculty

Document Type

Conference Presentation

Event Date



Physician Assistant Education Association Annual Education Forum


San Diego, CA


Purpose: In an era of rapid professional growth (from 134 PA programs in 2007 to 282 in 2022), recruiting and retaining a workforce of career PA educators is crucial. According to the most recent PAEA Faculty and Directors Report, however, 47.5% of faculty and 15.5% of program directors have been in PA education for four or fewer years. Historically, PA education has struggled with faculty retention, but no research to date has investigated the problem of PA faculty turnover by studying PAs who have left academic positions. The purpose of this study is to describe the lived experiences of PAs who have left academia in order to better understand PA faculty attrition.

Methods: Following institutional review board approval, purposeful stratified sampling was used to identify PAs who had recently left academic positions, including participants of both genders, a range of ages and years in PA education, multiple racial/ethnic groups, from multiple types of institutions, and from every major region in the US. A total of 18 participants were recruited and interviewed. Semi-structured interviews were completed via phone or email, and a thematic qualitative analysis of the transcripts was conducted using the Delve coding tool. One participant who agreed to an email interview was lost to follow-up. Interviewing continued until thematic saturation was reached.

Results: Ineffective program leadership, unsustainable workloads, unsupportive institutional environments, and a desire for more clinical practice opportunities emerged as key themes in participants’ decisions to leave academia. Erroneous expectations of academic work, inadequate training in education, and a lack of experienced mentors left participants ill-equipped to deal with these challenges, and the availability of more lucrative clinical positions made the decision to leave academia easier, despite an affinity for teaching and interacting with students. Reasons for entering academia were contrasted with reasons for leaving, and unique circumstances (outliers) were explored.

Discussion: This research provides a model for understanding PA faculty attrition and has many implications for faculty recruitment and retention. Effective program leadership that supports the development of new faculty, creates sustainable workloads, and advocates for the program within the institution has a major role in faculty retention. Leadership development should be a priority for the PA education profession and is vital to the sustainability of existing and developing programs. A limitation to this study is that the data was collected pre-pandemic, so the impact of recent cultural and institutional changes is unknown.


Physician Assistant Education, Physician Assistant Faculty