Diversity in the PA Profession: Navigating Obstacles with Brianna Cardenas, PA-C

Empowered PAs Physician Assistant Podcast

Podcast Episode 4: Diversity in the PA Profession, Navigating Obstacles with Brianna Cardenas, PA-C

Today’s podcast is one I’ve been looking forward to. Brianna Cardenas is a PA, an educator, an advocate and such an excellent example of a PA who is truly EMPOWERED. She has been kind and generous enough to have the TOUGH conversations. I took the liberty of summarizing the first part of the podcast content here, but I strongly encourage you to listen to the podcast as well!

Disclaimer: All opinions stated here are our own, personal, and do not necessarily reflect that of our employers.

Also- be kind, we may not get it all right but we are all learning together.

Brianna’s Story

Brianna was diagnosed at the age of 20 with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome which is a connective tissue disorder that can cause chronic joint and back pain. Initially, she thought it simply meant she was hypermobile, that she might have arthritis. While she was getting her bachelor’s degree in athletic training, a physical therapist, identified her symptoms.

Applying to PA School

She only applied to one PA school. She states she could only afford one program but also that her illness would limit her ability to commute due to her chronic back pain. She now reflects that she didn’t realize this was one barrier she was faced with as an applicant.

She also reflects that her journey as a patient and PA and has motivated her to create HealedandEmpowered as a resource for those with chronic disabilities.

During PA School

She’s had several interactions which she now understands were discriminatory in hindsight.

Something others can do to help:

  • Acknowledgment. Admit to yourself there are people who have been treated differently because of their skin color, culture, disability, gender, sexual orientation.

The Power Dynamic

Understanding the concept that PAs feel as though they cannot speak up because of the power people hold. A preceptor can hold a students

  • Know that these things are happening. Even if you aren’t committing the offenses, understand these things might happen.
  • Proactively address your students. When you onboard a new student, let them know they are welcome there, and you are an ally if they have an issue, or feel uncomfortable. Say the words “I will believe you” and “I am here for you” can go a long way.

Being Mindful and Sensitive

  • Remember you aren’t checking off a box and that its all in the approach. If you are wanting to advocate by planning an event, or speak out, don’t place the burden on the person of color, disability etc.
  • Recall that people are carrying around pain and trauma. Though you may be ready to talk about these issues (way to go!) your friends, colleagues, just remember that they are not always ready (or able) to discuss something that is so painful.
  • Understand that you can speak out for other groups as an ally, even if you aren’t a person in that group.

What Can I Do?

  • Show your solidarity. Visual cues are important, wearing pins or memorabilia on a pair of scrubs, badges or a white coat can be a sign of solidarity and let your friends, colleagues, and patients know that they CAN discuss their concerns with you. You can put your pronouns on social media bios. This can be called performative allyship. You may get pushback if people don’t believe it’s authentic.


You can reach Brianna Cardenas:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this snippet of our discussion- there is so much more in the podcast! I hope to inspire real conversation, motivate people to be open to dialogue and show our colleagues and patients that we are there for them.

I want to thank Brianna for her courage and passion! These conversations are so incredibly important, and I’m so thankful to have a safe place to discuss them!


You May Also Enjoy These Posts:

A Day in the Life of a Physician Assistant Desmond Watt
PA Leadership Series: Nicole Schtupak, PA-C Physician Assistant

Physician Assistant, Owner and Blogger at EmpoweredPAs.com. Currently practicing in a Pediatric Emergency Department, overseeing and developing evidence-based clinical practice guidelines with teams of amazing people, supporting and mentoring Pre-PA and PA Students, with a hope to advance our profession and give PAs the tools and resouces they need to advance their careers.