Spotlight on 2016 Breitman-Dorn Fellow Virginia Valentin

The Foundation’s Breitman-Dorn Research Fellowship, established in 1998 through a generous donation from Jerald A. Breitman in memory of his partner Stephen Dorn, provides financial assistance to doctoral candidates who are making a contribution to research on the influence of PAs on medical care. The applicant’s research must address the role or contributions of PAs in healthcare, although it need not focus exclusively on PAs or the PA profession.

2016 Breitman-Dorn Research Fellowship recipient Virginia Valentin, DrPH, PA-C, of the University of Utah utilized her fellowship award to support her doctoral research focused on understanding the individual and social variables that impact stage of diagnosis and treatment of melanoma patients in Kentucky. She completed her doctoral study and earned her degree in February 2017.

Valentin says she was inspired to go into research and pursue her doctorate by her desire to learn more—specifically, how to do research and answer questions in medicine with respect to patient care and utilization of PAs. She was also motivated by her interest in exploring the realm of public health. She selected her dissertation topic based on her passion for oncology and interest in social epidemiology. In particular, she sought to better understand the individual and social factors that influence cancer treatment, and focused on melanoma because it has not been studied as extensively as other cancers.

Over the course of her research process, Valentin’s interest areas have evolved and expanded. She has developed an interest in exploring the patient and provider factors that influence why standard of care cancer treatment is not provided. In addition, she is interested in taking a closer look at how PAs compare to other providers in this arena.

Now that she has completed her doctoral study, Valentin says she is focusing on continuing to develop her skills as a PA faculty member, researcher and leader. She is now an associate director at the University of Utah PA program and is currently applying for two additional research fellowships. If she is accepted, she will participate in a formal mentorship that provides her with time and resources to conduct epidemiologic research on cancer treatment outcomes and the PA workforce.

In reflecting on her dissertation and doctoral experience, Valentin says she is surprised she was able to complete her degree while simultaneously juggling the demands of a full-time career. She explains that the process teaches individuals a lot about themselves and how they can exceed their own expectations.

Valentin encourages PAs who are considering going into research related to the PA profession to “just go for it,” as “there are so many interesting questions and data available if you just make the time and do it.” When it comes to pursuing a doctoral degree, she recommends giving it some careful thought. She advises: “[Ask yourself], what do I want to study on a Sunday afternoon? I say this because completing your degree while working full time means that you will be spending many weekends reading and writing.”

In addition, Valentin suggests that potential doctoral candidates look into their institution’s offerings for educational programs and financial and other assistance, and get buy-in from their program director or department chair. She also emphasizes the importance of setting clear goals, questioning: “Is your goal to learn to research? Is your goal to get letters behind your name for further promotion? Is your goal to learn to be a better educator? Any of these goals are fine, just be clear with yourself what you want to do as that should assist you in determining the path you want to take.” Finally, Valentin urges doctoral candidates to seek out a mentor, even one who is outside of their own institution. She recommends going to PAEA meetings and reaching out to other educators involved in the research space. Her own mentors have helped her immensely throughout her degree and now career, she says.

The PA Foundation is proud to support PAs like Virginia Valentin who are making a contribution to research on the influence of PAs on medical care. The 2017 Breitman-Dorn Research Fellowship application cycle will open July 17.