Shiza Abbas, PAEA student health policy fellowship awarded

UB Physician Assistant Student Earns Prestigious Fellowship

University of Bridgeport (UB) Physician Assistant Institute student Shiza Abbas ’23 has been awarded the Student Health Policy Fellowship from the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA). Only 20 students nationwide are selected for the fellowship that usually takes place in Washington D.C. but this year was virtual due to the pandemic.

The fellowship afforded her the opportunity to assume the role of a future physician assistant (PA) and inspired a vision of how she would like to practice her profession. For her, it felt good to represent UB. “There are people in Connecticut who do not know that UB has a PA program, so I felt really proud to talk about my school, my program, and my experience,” Shiza offered.

The fellowship enhances students’ understanding of the political process and health policy. According to the PAEA website, “The ultimate goal is to inspire and prepare fellows for lifelong grassroots advocacy, both in Washington and at home, that promotes the PA profession as an integral part of the health care system.”

The fellowship began with three days of intensive workshops led by experts from different organizations on what health advocacy means and how bills are passed in Congress. “It is important for elected officials who vote on the bills to hear the voices of PAs and students, so they can understand how the bills affect our profession,” Shiza added.

A fourth day was fully devoted to local advocacy. Shiza was assigned to call three congressional offices. “I spoke with legislative staff members from the offices of Senator Richard Blumenthal, Senator Christopher Murphy, and Representative Jim Himes. I explained to them how the bills for consideration in Congress would impact the PA profession.” Shiza hopes the congressional staff would remember her story when they are considering the bills.

“I felt I was part of something larger. If these bills pass, it would affect how I practice in two years when I graduate,” Shiza added.

Shiza initially learned of the fellowship when UB’s Physician Assistant Institute Program Director Lauren Weindling sent an email to the entire PA class about this leadership and advocacy opportunity. In a follow-up conversation, Professor Weindling further encouraged her to apply for the fellowship, recalling that Shiza stated on her PA application how passionate she was about health equity and policy and that she hoped to work with underserved populations or with people with health disparities. “I am so glad Professor Weindling encouraged me to apply,” Shiza added.

Shiza was shocked when she heard that she got the fellowship. “I did not expect to get it on my first try. In the application, I mentioned that I did not have much background experience in health policy, but I was passionate about the subject,” she said. “I thought they would give the fellowship to more experienced students.”

She called her family and Professor Weindling to share the exciting news. “It was finals week, so I had to push back the celebration until after I was done with exams. But this was a huge achievement for me,” Shiza added.

One of the things Shiza most looked forward to was meeting other passionate PA students, building networks, and bouncing around ideas on policy issues. “During the fellowship, it was great to meet students from all around the nation. Although we are studying the same profession, we had different experiences working in a rural or urban setting, which gave us different perspectives on health policy,” Shiza explained.

One of the lessons Shiza learned is to keep current on legislation, which can be crucial on how health professionals practice. “I do see that after graduation and maybe a few years of practice, I would go back to advocacy, but with more practical knowledge of how health policy can affect my practice. The seed has been planted and we will see where I go from there. I do see my self becoming passionate about policies that would affect my patients or my practice,” Shiza added.

Learn more about the Physician Assistant MS degree program or the Physician Assistant Institute.