Kara L. Caruthers, MS, PA-C, has been a full-time PA educator since 2010, shortly after graduating from a PA program in December 2009. She has always had a strong focus on anatomy and physiology, earning both a masters in physiology and certification in anatomy. In each of her faculty roles, her administrative duties focused on student recruitment, admissions, and community engagement. Caruthers has fully embraced her role in increasing the diversity of the PA profession and has been a champion for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. As she strongly believes that the privilege to practice medicine comes with a duty to advocate and engage all community members, the alignment of equity and inclusion should come as no surprise.
Her dedication to inclusive and equity representation within the profession has led to her involvement as both a participant and team lead in the Project Access diversity recruitment initiative hosted by the PA Education Association (PAEA) and the American Academy of PAs (AAPA). Through her involvement in Project Access events and engaging with other PA leaders, she knew that she wanted to serve in an additional capacity, through one of the national PA organizations. Her leadership in PAEA began as a member of the Recruitment and Retention Subcommittee of the Inclusion and Diversity Council, for three years. She then became a PAEA director-at-large, serving two 2-year terms. It was during her second term that she earned a certificate in diversity and inclusion from Cornell University (2019) in hopes to align her skills with the alignment of more inclusive and diversity initiates within PAEA. After completing her second term as director-at-large, Caruthers was elected as president-elect of the organization and served as PAEA president during the organization’s 50th Anniversary year (2022) and participated in the planning of the celebration.
A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Caruthers’ interest in math, science, and medicine began at an early age. From dissecting earthworms in the back yard in kindergarten, to volunteering to take the lead on a frog dissection in 7th grade, to being part of a basic science research summer program prior to graduating high school, her passion for healthcare grew under the encouragement of her parents. Her sights were set on becoming a physician, which garnered her an entry into a medical school pipeline program upon graduation from high school. After graduating from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, with a Bachelor of Science in Biology in 1998, she matriculated into medical school. However, life challenges and learning how to balance those challenges and school resulted in academic failures in both anatomy and physiology leading to her ultimate dismissal from medical school.
Upon her dismissal, she ended up working for a healthcare organization in a personnel staffing role but knew that role would not fulfill her passion for patient care and her medical curiosity. Determined to fill in her knowledge gaps and continue her pursuit of a MD, she applied and matriculated into graduate school at Southern Illinois University (SIU) Carbondale (2005) along with earning a certificate in anatomy. After completing her degree, she was offered her first academic appointment as an anatomy instructor for the 1st year medical students at SIU School of Medicine. During this time, despite studying for and retaking the medical school entrance exam, she began questioning if medical school was the right path for her. Along the way, the love of anatomy that began in medical school blossomed into a love for teaching anatomy. The time commitment associated with re-entering medical school, residency, and a potential fellowship was seemingly in opposition to being in the classroom.
While teaching 1st year medical students, Caruthers had the opportunity to teach in the PA program at SIU Carbondale, where she had her first meaningful exposure to the PA profession. Initially seeing PAs not as medial healthcare professionals but as literal “assistants” to physicians, the learning curve was steep but illuminating. Understanding the development of the profession, the essential role PAs play as part of the healthcare team, the competency-based medical training, the rigorous board certification and maintenance process and the generalist training which allowed for the ability to practice in various areas of medicine, while also being able to teach, convinced her to pivot. Caruthers’ passion to practice medicine in communities much like hers, which are often overlooked and underfunded, was reignited. Teaching with the PA faculty at SIU Carbondale served as the blueprint of what her career could be: teaching students while also practicing medicine in the local community.
Caruthers started on the path to PA and PA educator. After researching several PA programs and completing necessary pre-requisite courses, she was accepted and matriculated into the Surgical PA program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where she graduated with an MS in Physician Assistant Studies (2009). Shortly after earning her PA degree from UAB, she joined the UAB PA Program faculty as an assistant professor (2010-2017), and worked clinically in emergency medicine at UAB (2010-2015) as well as in urgent care (2014-2017). During her last two years at UAB, she also served as co-program director of the Biomedical and Health Science Program’s effort to prepare students in an 11-month MS program for entering a graduate program in health professions education (pre-med, pre-dental, pre-PA).
In 2018, she joined the faculty of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) PA Program in Memphis, Tennessee (2018-2021). There she was appointed as associate professor and served both as the assistant program director and the director of Community Engagement, Diversity, & Recruitment, and worked clinically in primary care at the student and employee health clinics and at a community- based free primary care clinic.
She recently (2021) joined the inaugural faculty as an associate professor and associate program director of the PA sciences program at Meharry Medical College – a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee. The inaugural class began in January 2023, and she continues to share her enthusiasm for learning anatomy. She anticipates resuming her clinical work in primary care through a clinic on campus later this year.
Caruthers has published in the Journal of PA Education (JPAE) on the topic of team-based learning. She has presented frequently at national, state, and local organizations (including the AAPA Annual Conference and PA Education Forum) on the topics of admissions & recruitment, diversity & inclusion, mentorship, leadership, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence. Caruthers served as PI for a research grant from Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) for disadvantaged PA students.
Caruthers has received numerous awards and recognitions, including: PAEA President’s Award (2022), President’s Award in Health, Memphis Chapter National Coalition of 100 Black Women (2019), Wonderful Outstanding Woman Award, Birmingham Chapter NAACP (2015), Excellence in Service Award, School of Health Professions (2013), Faculty Appreciation Award, Black Student Awareness Committee (2013), Teacher of the Year SIU School of Medicine Class of 2010 (2007), Faculty of the Year SIU School of Medicine Class of 2009 (2006).
Caruthers is a member of the American Academy of PAs, the Tennessee Academy of PAs, and the National Association of Medical Minority Educators. During her time in Alabama, she was a member of the Alabama Society of PAs and served its board as a member-at-large (2011-2012), its vice president (2013-2015), and its treasurer (2015-2017). She is currently an advisory board member to the National Society of Black PAs and the Marsha-Kelley Sutton (MKS) Foundation, which provides scholarships and mentorship to future global leaders.
As family and friends are important to her, you will find her enjoying travel, live music, good food and drinks with those she loves. You may also find her roaming through bookstores and art galleries, as she is always on the lookout for a new book or art piece to add to her collection.
Acknowledgments: This biography was prepared by Bill Kohlhepp with the assistance of Ms. Caruthers and submitted to the Society in May 2023. All photographs are courtesy of Ms. Caruthers.