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The Duke PA Program has one of the only PA-led research departments.

Second Year Student Blog: Eric Langhans

Duke Medicine Mission

Duke Medicine strives to transform medicine and health locally and globally through innovative scientific research, rapid translation of breakthrough discoveries, educating future clinical and scientific leaders, advocating and practicing evidence-based medicine to improve community health, and leading efforts to eliminate health inequalities.

Advances in technology and medical innovation mean that we, as future clinicians, will constantly need to be researching and reading up in order to stay at the top of our game. What draws many people to the field of medicine, intellectually at least, is the idea of lifelong learning. In the rapid two years of schooling it takes to become a physician assistant, it is impossible to learn the depth of what we will have to know as practitioners of medicine. Instead, we are able to get a solid foundation of the basic and medical sciences, and are taught how to learn more.

A key to this aspect of learning, of how to ask the right question and where to find the answer, is addressed directly through our Evidence-Based Medicine class. The class consists of two parts: During the first year we have lectures and small-group discussions on statistical methods, study design and research methods. During our second year, the clinical portion of the program, we spend four weeks writing a systematic review on a topic of interest and presenting our findings to our peers. Throughout the class we are encouraged to think critically about the research we are exploring and to then be able to apply it to clinical scenarios.

While it can be difficult at first to see how learning about a Fisher’s Exact Test or external validity could possibly help us be better clinicians, I’ve already seen first-hand how the skills I learned in Evidence-Based Medicine have helped shape my clinical decision making. In my last two months of rotations, on the General Medicine and Hospitalist Services at Duke Regional Hospital, it is expected that we not only make a clear assessment and plan for each patient we see, but that we are also able to defend our plan and our medical decision making with evidence-based information. Using evidence-based practice ensures that we are giving our patients the most relevant and up-to-date information possible.

One aspect of Duke that stands out in my mind is its dedication to research. The Duke Physician Assistant Program has one of the only PA-led research departments in the country, and Duke prides itself on staying at the forefront of research innovation. As students we benefit from this by being taught by PAs who are actively involved in the research world and can educate us from first-hand experience on the best ways research is being conducted. We also have lecturers from throughout the Duke Medicine network who are conducting groundbreaking research on the very topics they are lecturing about, giving us access to the most current information available.

Before starting at the Duke Physician Assistant Program last year I worked in Washington, D.C., doing clinical research. The Evidence-Based Medicine class was a welcomed reminder of the work I was doing there and reinforced my interests in being involved in clinical research as a physician assistant. PAs are highly involved in the intertwined worlds of clinical practice, research and policy. As such, it’s important as students to be prepared to incorporate all of these worlds into our practice and future careers. As I continue through my clinical rotations and begin my career as a PA, I know that the skills I learned through Evidence-Based Medicine will help me become a better practitioner and will directly benefit my patients.