Coombs, U Researcher, Awarded PA Accolade

Jennifer Coombs, a faculty member of the U’s School of Medicine with the Physician Assistant Program, received the Research Achievement Award.

This honor is awarded once per year in Philadelphia from the Physician Assistant Education Program. The recipient is an individual whose research has made a significant impact to physician assistant education. There are fewer than 10 individuals nationally who have achieved the noteworthy accolades that Coombs, who was recognized on Oct. 17, has.

Coombs was awarded for research in two distinct areas. The first topic focused on how physician assistants are being utilized to serve the rural and underprivileged areas of Utah.

“Utah is one of the most rural states in the country,” Coombs said. “As such, people have a much greater problem accessing healthcare. Although my research wouldn’t be viewed as ‘classical research,’ it served an important purpose for examining how people lead healthy lives and what means they have to access medical care.”

In addition to the research on rural and underprivileged areas, Coombs also studied the pay gap that exists for female physician assistants. Her research discovered that this pay disparity exists for women in most professional fields, including medicine, law and business.

“The shocking thing I discovered was that the pay gap increases at the higher levels of pay,” she said.

Coombs took a national sample of wages when conducting her research on pay disparities. In Utah, women make 66 cents to each dollar a man makes.

“Shedding light on the issue is the first step to solving it,” Coombs said. “You have to describe the problem and draw attention to it. The second step is to determine a solution.”

Coombs would like to see more women talking about these issues. She said a dialogue needs to be started about how women are being treated in the workforce. Without this acknowledgement, she said the issue will continue to exist in the shadows.

When she discovered she would be receiving the Research Achievement Award, Coombs said her son summed up her achievement succinctly.

“I came home and my high school son said to me, ‘Mom, are you getting an award for your feminist stuff?’ This made me so happy,” Coombs said. “The truth is, though, a lot of people think that. In reality it is everyone’s issue.”

Marsea Nelson, public affairs coordinator with the Physician Assistant Education Association, said the program nominates “outstanding faculty and staff.”

“There was an unprecedented number of nominations this year for [Coombs],” Nelson said.

The U is ranked second in the nation for physician assistant programs. In addition, it is home to one of the oldest programs in the country. Coombs said in recent years she has seen a trend of more students wanting to go to PA school rather than medical school. Last year, there were more than 900 applications for 44 positions at the U.

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