When she was contemplating a career, Kim Cavanagh, DHSc, PA-C weighed whether to become a health care provider or an educator. In the end, she did both, and the wisdom of her decision was confirmed with the Educator of the Year award given by the Pennsylvania Society of Physician Assistants (PSPA) at the group’s annual convention late last year.

Cavanagh, who is Associate Professor/Associate Director of Gannon University’s Physician Assistant Department was honored for being, according to PSPA’s criteria, the “Pennsylvania physician assistant educator who inspires, stimulates, and challenges [her] students and colleagues through outstanding contributions to PA education and the Physician Assistant profession.”

“Humbled and honored are the words I use. I absolutely love what I do, so to receive an honor for what I love makes it more special.”

Before coming to Gannon in 2001, Cavanagh had a career as a Physician Assistant at UPMC Hamot Medical Center. But the pull of education was always strong. “My mother (Gannon School of Education professor Janice Whiteman), sister and husband are educators, which is helpful,” Cavanagh said. “As health care providers, we’re not trained educators, so to have these role models to talk to about concepts such as curriculum, is very valuable.”

To advance her profession, Cavanagh serves as the chair of the assessment council of the Physician Assistant Education Association, a national organization for which she researches assessment tools and develops infrastructure for initiatives such as online assessment capabilities. “That involvement has been valuable to me because I’ve met other educators across the country, and seen what they do,” Cavanagh said.

She pointed out that physician assistant education programs nationwide are governed by a strict set of standards. “We all look pretty similar because we have to do the same things, but how we deliver education might be different,” she said.

Cavanagh cited Gannon’s extensive use of 14 medium- and high-fidelity patient simulators, the most in the area, as a point of differentiation, but she also cited a faculty “who care about their students and work hard, and that’s invaluable to prepare students for their careers. Preceptors tell us, ‘We want more Gannon grads,’ and those graduates are really good ambassadors of the University.”

Just like Kim Cavanagh.