Physician Assistant professor Sara Lolar wins national research grant

Sara Lolar

Wayne State University Assistant Clinical Professor of Physician Assistant Studies Sara Lolar was awarded the 2019 Don Pedersen Research Grant from the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA), providing $6,996 to fund her project “Barriers to research: A national survey of physician assistant faculty.” Lolar is also a 1995 and 2005 Wayne State alumna.

Founded in 1972, PAEA is the only national organization representing physician assistant educational programs in the United States. Each year, it awards Pedersen grants to just a handful of PA faculty members nationwide.

Lolar’s project aims to define unique barriers to PA researchers, determine the association of these barriers on PA research productivity, and provide recommendations to the profession and academic institutions for the future.

Her co-investigators on the grant-funded project are Alexandria Garino, PA-C, program director at the Yale School of Medicine Physician Associate Program, and Dr. Robert Welch, Professor and director of clinical research at Wayne State School of Medicine Department of Emergency Medicine.

In addition to her role on the Wayne State faculty, Lolar works as a physician assistant in the Detroit Medical Center Emergency Department. Inspired by her own struggles to integrate research into her career, Lolar explains that her experience is far from unique to PA faculty members.

“Like most PA faculty, I entered academia after a clinical career. While I was able to quickly adjust to the teaching and service demands of a new faculty position, clinical work and PA education did not prepare me for the rigors of scholarship. I found I had little experience and little time for research,” Lolar said. “How is a new faculty member supposed to orient to institutional culture, develop a professional network, and create work-life balance – all while trying to figure out how to do research in between clinical shifts and administrative, teaching and service activities?”

Less than half (46.6%) of PA faculty have a publication over the span of their academic career. Of those who successfully published, the average is 2.2 articles and 0.8 research presentations in the last two years.

“It can be presumed that lack of research productivity is a reason that PA faculty struggle with advancement in their institutions,” Lolar said. “Scholarship is not only a requirement for promotion, but also emphasized by leadership in the university.”

Lolar sees many potential results of her study, from helping to retain diverse faculty and helping faculty better navigate the academic system, to increasing PA scholarly work and promoting faculty development. She also hopes her study may suggest policy change at the program and institutional level to support PA faculty.

“Only by identifying the true barriers can change be instituted,” Lolar said.

The Don Pedersen Research Grants Program, generously endowed by the Pedersen family, is intended to foster PA faculty development in the area of research about both PA education and PA workforce issues. Winning proposals answer new questions or address knowledge gaps exposed by previous research, and preference is given to topics of national interest.

The Physician Assistant Studies master’s degree program is offered through the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at Wayne State University in Detroit.

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