Besides making sure students have as complete an educational experience as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida Gulf Coast University faculty and staff also have played a lead role in the community response to this crisis.
Breaking down and analyzing the healthcare aspects of the situation for the public has been forefront in that outreach. And perhaps the most visible member of the FGCU family in that regard has been Robert Hawkes, director of physician assistant studies in the Marieb College of Health & Human Services.
Already a frequent go-to source for area reporters on health topics even before coronavirus entered our lives, Hawkes has really been a hot interview of late. He’s been participating in locally televised panel discussions, offering expert analysis on developments during news reports on every TV station and major newspaper in the region, answering questions submitted by readers in a published column, and even extending his visibility beyond Southwest Florida to the Tampa and West Palm Beach markets.
He was ready for his proverbial close-up.
“I feel it is important to break down the important topics in an easy-to-understand, conversational format,” Hawkes said. “I try to take the research data available and present the topic in a concise way that the viewer or reader can understand.
“Marieb College and FGCU have areas of expertise to share, and I am pleased that we are seen as a community resource to share critical information with the local media,” he continued. “The media exposures will create additional awareness of the essential requirements of healthcare in our region.”
The value of what Hawkes calls “media exposures” isn’t lost on Ann Cary, dean of Marieb College, who encourages her faculty and staff to take advantage of such chances.
“[Professor] Hawkes has been part of a Marieb College team of Drs. (Loureen) Downes, (Jayanta) Gupta, (Thomas) Felke and (Alise) Bartley who are regularly educating our community on the health impact, prevention and remediation activities for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cary said. “Other faculty and administrators from Marieb have likewise provided facts and perspectives for local and national audiences.
“I am so grateful for Dr. Hawkes and his colleagues in communicating the changing nature of COVID-19 facts to combat the fears of constantly evolving information and science discovery,” Cary said. “They provide an unparalleled service to our community in addition to their full loads in teaching and research, because they care for our community when the community needs it the most.”
Cary points out that FGCU’s health experts also are keeping their primary roles as teachers and administrators going strong despite the challenges. In Hawkes’ case, it’s directing the master’s in physician assistant studies (MPAS) degree program that launched at FGCU in fall 2017.
Hawkes first came to FGCU in 2015 after five years as an assistant professor in the PA program at the Fort Myers campus of Nova Southeastern University. “Having grown up in New England, I was ready for a change and warmer climate,” said Hawkes, who was born in Portland, Maine, where he began working as an emergency medical technician and paramedic while doing undergraduate studies in business administration at the University of Southern Maine. “I had family already living in Fort Myers, and this was a smooth transition. I enjoy outdoor activities, and Southwest Florida is a great location to raise a family.”
Hawkes mentioned that his original area of study in college was in business. “My family had owned a business for many years that was purchased by a national company. I enjoyed healthcare, and was prepared to make the transition to an advance-practice provider,” he said. “While working as a paramedic, I was simultaneously preparing for a graduate degree in PA studies (at the University of New England). I was also the director of an EMS/paramedic program (at Southern Maine Community College) prior to moving to Florida.”
He feels it was his business administration education and training – in addition to that extensive emergency-care experience on a supervisory level – that prompted FGCU to entrust him with starting the MPAS program here.
“Living in Estero, I was watching FGCU’s growth for many years,” Hawkes said. “A colleague informed me that FGCU was in the process of developing a physician assistant program. The challenging part of a new PA program is developing the curriculum and obtaining program accreditation.”
FGCU applied for full accreditation in August 2016. “The faculty and administration at FGCU were supportive in developing the new program, allowing us to matriculate our first class in August 2017.”
That inaugural class of 19 students graduated last December. “We currently have two cohorts of 20 students enrolled in the program,” Hawkes said. “The next cohort of 20 students will begin in August.”
It’s that personal educational training afforded by such an intentionally small class size that not only attracts students, but prepares them to hit the field running. “We admit only 20 students per year, which allows us to individualize the students’ experiences,” Hawkes said. “We also focus on team-based and problem-based learning exercises.”
And the results? “Our preceptors and clinical partners have commented how well prepared our students are for their clinical rotations,” Hawkes said. “We have an experienced faculty who bring knowledge and experiences to the classroom. Many of our recent graduates received job offers while on clinical rotations.”
Hawkes himself continues to practice what he preaches and teaches, still working himself as a PA with ApolloMD in Lehigh Acres. And even though his days are filled with teaching, administrative duties, practicing medicine — and, yes, those frequent media bookings — Hawkes is just like many of us in the way he enjoys what little spare time he has these days.
“I enjoy being outdoors as much as possible,” he said. “I enjoy being on the water fishing and tubing with my teenagers.” Those Sunshine State activities replace the recreational lifestyle Hawkes enjoyed in his native New England, where besides water sports he played hockey in high school and worked as a disc jockey. “I still enjoy many different types of music, especially from the ’70s and ’80s.”
In recent weeks, though, much of the fun and games are on hold not only for Hawkes, but the rest of us as we slowly and carefully emerge from the COVID-19 chaos.
“The pandemic has changed the way we function as a society,” Hawkes said. “We are continuing to learn how to change our daily routines. Once the current pandemic subsides, we will continue to utilize social distancing in larger settings, and become more aware to wash our hands more frequently. Also, we have all become more proficient in using new technology to communicate with our students and families.”
Robert Hawkes had never done any media interviews until a year ago, and he credits Kyle McCurry and Annie Hubbell, director and assistant director, respectively, of media and public relations at FGCU, for preparing him. “They have been very supportive by sharing interview and presentation techniques. They both have a wealth of (media) knowledge to share with faculty.”
Hawkes offers the following tips to other faculty and staff who might want to make themselves available for media interviews:
- Be comfortable with the topics you are discussing. If you are asked a question that you do not have the expertise to answer, advise the reporter that you are not comfortable answering that question and perhaps they can rephrase the question.
- Media work on very tight deadlines, so it is important to be available on short notice. Many of my media appearances will occur with less than one-hour lead time.
- Be yourself on camera. While initially intimidating, the local media are supportive as they are pleased that FGCU is a resource they can trust.