Student Organization Spotlight: The Black Society of Physician Assistant Students (BSPAS)
Zobaku Acholonu and Mia Watson are members of the Lewis Katz School of Medicine Physician Assistant Class of 2023. They are also Black women in medicine who carry the mantle proudly. With excitement and determination, they are leading a group with a mission to spread the word to individuals underrepresented in medicine that the physician assistant profession is a rewarding possibility for them, too.
This summer, Acholonu and Watson were elected president and vice president, respectively, of The Black Society of Physician Assistant Students (BSPAS) at the Katz School of Medicine. Their terms in office will continue until they graduate.
Acholonu said it was “eye-opening” and “shocking” to learn how severely underrepresented Black Physician Assistants (PAs) are in the field. Only 3.3 percent of PAs nationwide identify as Black or African-American, according to the 2020 Annual Report published by the National Commission Certification on Certification of Physician Assistants.
“I thought 100 percent that it was necessary to lead this organization and to let ourselves be known,” Acholonu said. “We want to get out into the community, and to let others know that they, too, can get into this field and that they, too, belong in this field.”
Watson echoed those sentiments. “I want to have a key role in making the field known,” she said. “I’d like to be a platform for people to feel comfortable to ask whatever questions they want, and also just be vulnerable and see the realness of what it is like being a Black woman going through this journey.”
Watson recently was granted a two-year National Health Services Corps Scholarship. Upon graduation, she will be required to provide health care in an underserved community for two years. She said she was looking forward to the experience.
“That won over my heart,” she said. “It gives me the opportunity to give back to the community in that way.”
Acholonu said the society was created at the Katz School of Medicine about four years ago by two PA students. Its mission is to uplift black representation in the PA profession and engage with and offer outreach services to residents of the underserved North Philadelphia neighborhood that Temple calls home.
The society is small but passionate, currently consisting of only the four members of its Executive Board. In addition to Acholonu and Watson, Caesar Bankole serves as secretary and Regine Jacque is treasurer.
“We all just work together to make it feel like there are more of us. We are four very big personalities and four people who are dedicated to showing our presence as people of color in the society, so it often doesn’t feel so small,” Acholonu said.
Watson said the group has started mentoring undergraduates on Temple’s main campus and recently helped to take blood pressure and glucose readings for neighborhood residents who attended a health fair held at Bright Hope Baptist Church.
“I think it’s important to allow people to know that we are there to help you,” she said.
Later this month, the society plans to speak to a group of grade-school-age African-American children who are members of a group called Little Scouts. “We’re going to show them that they, too, can be in our shoes,” Acholonu said.
She hopes that the society’s membership will grow as it holds more events. “That’s one of our goals, to get more people in our organization so that we can continue to spread the wealth. Anybody of any skin color can be in the society. All are welcome to come,” she said.
Acholonu said she was attracted to Temple’s 26-month PA program because she is eager to get involved in hands-on work after being in school for so many years. She graduated from Lock Haven University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Science, and then from a post-baccalaureate program at Temple.
“I often let people know that being a PA was not a backup choice,” said Acholonu. “Being a PA was my number one choice for so many reasons.”
Watson and her parents have deep ties to Temple. Her parents Daryl Watson, MD ’90, and Patricia Gist-Watson, MD ’90, are graduates of the Temple medical school. Watson, who is from North Wales, Pa., received a Bachelor of Science degree in Neuroscience from Temple. While an undergraduate, she began working as a technician at the Katz School of Medicine’s ’s Center for Substance Abuse Research. After graduation, she worked full-time at the Center for five years, including her last few years as a lab manager.
Both women described the Temple PA program as intense and rigorous. They acknowledged that it took a while to adjust to its demands, but both said they made a successful transition by learning to manage their time and resources.
“PA school is 1,000 times faster than anything I have ever done,” Acholonu said. “I found out quickly that I have no time to waste time.”
Acholonu, the youngest of five siblings, was born in Reno, Nev., and moved with her family to Macungie, Pa., near Allentown, when she was 9. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Nigeria when they were of college age. Her father is a metallurgical engineer with a PhD and her mother became a teacher.
If you would like more information about the program or become a member please contact, Mia Watson at email@example.com.
- Lillian Swanson