Negotiation Principles as Added Curriculum

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The Lessons Learned feature article, “Negotiating on Behalf of Your Program,” by Warner, White, and Reffel, published in the June issue (28.2), prompted an immediate thought of “Well, isn't that common sense?” But on further consideration, I realized that the inclusion of an essential tool identified as a negotiation algorithm had been omitted from my physician assistant (PA) education. The authors make valid points regarding PA educators' frequent negotiations on behalf of their students. For example, common negotiating points include clinical sites, tuition, and dual degree programs, to mention a few.1 However, the authors neglected to expand their target audience to include all the groups within the entire life cycle of a PA, beginning with their time as students.
Courses in negotiation enhance the ability to think and behave in a responsible manner, which allows for good decision making, ie, common sense. In the past, people often learned to negotiate by emulating the process modeled to them. As an older, career-changing PA student, I have honed my negotiation skills through life experiences as an informed consumer of houses and automobiles. Conversely, in PA school, I quickly realized that just a handful of classmates share similar negotiation experiences, illustrating the need to incorporate negotiation principles into the PA curriculum, because it is, in fact, not common sense. As naïve students are given opportunities to experience what I have already experienced, they will learn and refine their techniques. I believe this process should begin in PA school.
The authors prescribe a “stepwise approach” outlining how to navigate negotiations.1 These components are the fundamental ingredients for concocting a recipe for success. However, the art of negotiation is best learned through modeling and experience; simply reading a book is insufficient to master the craft. Consider the example of ballroom dancing. A book on the subject is surely filled with detailed “how to” steps lining its pages. Although this would be informative to an extent, without actual practice and execution of the motions with a partner, the art of ballroom dancing cannot be perfected. Negotiation, such as ballroom dancing, is an exchange between 2 persons consisting of intricate motions that are often traditional and sometimes unconventional. The instruction necessary to impact the dance of successful negotiation should begin as students continue into clinical practice.
Warner et al noted the importance of “the connection between principles of negotiation from the business and legal literature and PA education.”1 This connection warrants further investigation to compare the overall success of PA students with and without formal negotiation training. Success can be defined by salary, position, quality of work, published works, etc. A control group would consist of several PA programs without any curriculum in business or law. These additional studies would assist in curriculum placement and the development of future course hour allocations.
Warner et al correctly pointed out the importance of negotiation as a PA.1 Furthermore, they clearly defined the objectives needed for successful negotiations. Yet, they were remiss in neglecting students as part of their target audience. If negotiation is incorporated into the PA curriculum, I predict students will better use negotiation not only for measurable personal success, but in achieving agreement on treatment plans with patients. Because PA educators often begin their careers in clinical settings, PA educators already are critically positioned to successfully model negotiation to PA students.
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