Still a New Day at AAPA: Q&A With Bill Leinweber

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Since joining the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) in February 2008 as Executive Vice President and CEO, Bill Leinweber has brought positive energy and a new focus to the organization. Despite his busy schedule, Leinweber recently found time to speak with Clinician Reviews about AAPA’s goals and priorities, the impact of health care reform on the direction of the profession, and efforts to raise PAs’ public profile.

Clinician Reviews: When you joined AAPA, what was your assessment of the profession’s needs?

Leinweber: My observation and experience was, from a PA perspective, a very high level of enthusiasm and commitment by PAs about the profession, and a strong desire for the profession to take its rightful, prominent place in health care. I really sensed a hunger, in those who make up the profession, for recognition, of wanting to be perceived as truly a player in the delivery of health care and the policy that accompanies that delivery.

CR: Of the changes implemented at AAPA in the past two years, which for you is the most significant and/or satisfying?

Leinweber: What jumps to mind is shifting the real focus and the work of the Board of Directors of the Academy from that of an operational board to a strategic board. What are the truly big issues and major priorities that the board needs to focus their time and attention on and allocate the organization’s resources to address? As we become more strategically focused, you’ll see continuity in terms of the goals that we’re working to achieve and the resources we’re putting behind achieving those goals.

We have also worked hard to shift—and this continues; I don’t want to suggest it’s completed—from a very process-driven organization to one that really wants to look at outcomes. You need some level of process, but if you have a lot of process but not the outcomes that really move the ball forward, then you’re not serving your members.

That said, there will be things that individuals or groups of individuals in the profession believe should be a priority that aren’t. I want to be clear that even in moving to a strategic focus and direction, everybody doesn’t get everything they want addressed all the time. That’s a challenge.

CR: What are your immediate and ongoing priorities for AAPA?

Leinweber: Our policymakers just passed historic health care reform legislation. There are clearly, even within our profession, varying points of view across the political spectrum in support for or opposition to health care reform.

The Academy had no position per se on any bill in its entirety. What we focused on was to ensure that as any and all legislation began to take shape, PAs were prominently and appropriately identified as key to the success of any reform effort.

I believe we made huge headway there. PAs are called out by name in the legislation, in terms of being critical to the success of the expansion of primary care and in a number of other ways.

That has implications in terms of priorities. The country will now move from a legislative process to the implementation of many of the provisions in the reform legislation over the next several years. That will have bearing on some of our work and some of our priorities. What will this mean for us as a profession? What does it mean for us as an Academy, and how do we respond?

Certainly the number of PAs in primary care today is not what it once was. We feel an obligation to really be looking for strategies to help grow, to the fullest degree possible, interest and commitment to primary care—and to do that in a way that doesn’t detract from the important contributions PAs in specialties are making.

I look at this as, how do we grow the whole “pie” of PAs exponentially, so that we can contribute larger numbers to the critical need in primary care, in addition to having PAs filling needs in surgery, surgical subspecialties, internal medicine, etc?

We continue to move forward with the development of a research agenda for the profession. In that regard, we hosted a research summit in early March, which was very well attended. We’ll be putting out a proceedings paper from that summit soon, which will outline the steps we will take to formulate a research agenda for the profession.

Also, we’re undertaking a lot of work on the governance front of the Academy. Over the next year, we’ll be looking at the relationship AAPA has with its state chapters and with its specialty organizations. The way those relationships have been chartered and have worked hasn’t really changed in 30 or 40 years, and I think the world in that time has changed dramatically.

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