Soon after graduating from the Wake Forest University PA Program in 1999, Ms. Hills was selected as a teaching fellow in the Duke University PA Program in 2001. Upon completion of the fellowship, she remained at Duke as the program’s clinical coordinator. In 2005, she became the program’s associate director and then director in 2013. While at Duke, she became a skilled grants writer and coauthored articles on a broad range of education-related topics. She perfected her leadership skills and helped develop a collaborative network of PA program directors throughout North Carolina. It was during this time that she became active in the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA), conducting workshops, presenting papers and serving on panels at national conferences. She was elected to the PAEA Board of Directors in 2011, eventually becoming the PAEA’s president in 2014 and co-chairing the organization’s Primary Care Competency Task Force in 2015.
In 2017, Ms. Hills left Duke as a professor emeritus in the Department of Community and Family Medicine to become the chief of educational development for PAEA located in Washington, DC. In this capacity, she assists PA programs with faculty development. She works with workshop facilitators to enhance core PAEA offerings, has developed a successful model for a leadership lab and has created an instructional coaching component for the overall faculty development programming. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Hills along with colleagues at PAEA created a series of virtual faculty development webinars that ease the transition from classroom to online learning. Ms. Hills has served as a panelist for an International Association of Medical Science Educators (IAMSE) webinar on the learning environment as well as presented on using a Digital Learning Hub to enhance faculty development offerings at the Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE) 2019 conference.
Ms. Hills’ formative years were spent in Winston-Salem, NC. She is the daughter of two college professors and the oldest of three children. She received a B.A. degree from Wake Forest University in 1983 and an M.S. from American University in 1988 in Health Fitness Management. Prior to graduate school, Ms. Hills worked as a staff assistant at the Congressional Sunbelt Council, serving members of Congress from Southern and Southwestern states. Her legislative initiatives focused on health and environmental issues. Before becoming a PA, Ms. Hills served as a community education coordinator at a small rural hospital in Eden, NC. She was then named executive director of the Wellness Council of NC in Greensboro, NC. Ms. Hills had considered the PA profession while an undergraduate and became more interested in it with her work at the Wellness Council, noting how the barriers to health promotion and disease prevention were impacted by a lack of access to primary care. This motivated her to apply to PA school, enrolling at the Wake Forest University PA Program in 1997. After graduating, Ms. Hills worked clinically in cardiology before joining a small family practice in Kernersville, NC. While in this position, Ms. Hills learned about the PA Teaching Fellowship offered by Duke University. As an educator, Ms. Hills continued to practice clinically in primary care, including in a school-based community clinic, as a founding team member of the Lyon Park Community Clinic, at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center and seven years at the Duke Student Health Center. Before leaving Duke, she was a member of the primary care team providing acute and chronic care to residents of a substance abuse treatment center located in Durham, NC.
In 2005, Ms. Hills was inducted into the Pi Alpha National Honor Society for Physician Assistants sponsored by the PAEA. In 2014, she received PAEA’s President’s Award in recognition of her leadership of PAEA and dedication to excellence in physician assistant education. In 2017, she became a distinguished member of Duke AHEAD (Academy for Health Professions Education and Academic Development) for her proven track record of scholarship in the field of health professions education at Duke, at other institutions, and at regional and national events. In October 2019, Ms. Hills was recognized by The Leadership Challenge as a certified facilitator.
Acknowledgments: This biography was prepared by Reginald Carter with the assistance of Ms. Hills and submitted to the Society in April 2020. The photographs are courtesy of Ms. Hills, PAEA and Duke University. Information for this biography was extracted from online biographical information provided by Duke University at: https://fmch.duke.edu/duke-physician-assistant-program/news-and-events/pa-program-director-karen-hills-leaving-duke-new and https://scholars.duke.edu/person/karen.hills.