Mangelsdorff establishes PAS program’s first endowed professorship

When McAllen native Darrell Alviar was leaving the military, he drew on his background as a Navy corpsman to seek his civilian profession. “It was a natural progression. I had already been seeing patients and dispensing medications,” he said, in a Marine Corps Infantry Unit in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Alviar will be entering the Physician Assistant Studies (PAS) program in the School of Health Professions this fall as part of the first class to complete the master’s degree in two years instead of three. The recent changes also expand the class size from 30 students to 40, so additional graduates can move more quickly into the workforce.

“I liked the idea that several of the faculty members are former military and that San Antonio is so military friendly. I thought I would fit right in,” Alviar said.

As the PAS program celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2012 — ranked 18th nationally by U.S. News & World Report — it’s appropriate to look at its beginnings, which coincidentally began with the military.

“During the Vietnam War, there were few doctors on the battlefield,” explained, J. Glenn Forister, M.S., M.P.A.S., PA-C, interim chair of the Department of PAS and an Army Reserve veteran. “Medics were the closest you’d come to having a doctor.”

In 1965, Duke University started the first civilian PAS program. Many of the students in the early days of the profession were former medics, including Dennis Blessing, Ph.D., PA-C, who served as a surgical technician in Vietnam and later became a founding faculty member of the Health Science Center program. He now is a professor and associate dean of the School of Health Professions.

After the success of a pilot program that placed civilian students in unfilled slots in an Army PAS program at Fort Sam Houston, the School of Health Professions received approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in 2000 to start its own bachelor’s degree program. This quickly developed into a three-year master’s degree in 2003. And by extending rotations throughout South and Central Texas, the program has become well known for its emphasis on primary care and providing culturally competent health care services to underserved populations, Forister said.

“Since our students are often in rural settings, we challenge them to become independent thinkers and active contributors to the health care team. This comes from our origins as a military program where service to others is paramount,” Forister explained. The changes to the program in January, which streamline the classroom portion of the programs will help bring more PAs into communities throughout the state.

Julie Dylla, PA-C, was president of the first PAS class. Looking back on her studies, she recalled: “The didactics (classroom portion) were very intense. They told us that we were going to learn three-fourths of what a medical student would learn in half the time. I don’t know if that was actually true, but I can tell you that it sure felt like it!”

After graduation, Dylla entered the neurosurgery specialty at Audie L. Murphy Veterans Hospital. She compares her career to that of a medical resident. “I am the first line of contact with the patient,” she said. “I see them in the exam room, in the emergency room and in the operating room. The only thing I don’t do is perform surgery, but I do assist,” she said. “It’s a very satisfying career.”

The military initially drew psychologist and PAS donor A. David Mangelsdorff, Ph.D., M.P.H., to the UT Health Science Center. While planning a conference to be held on campus he became reacquainted with one of his former students, Judy Colver, who was a PAS faculty member at that time.

In 2005, Dr. Mangelsdorff established the first endowed professorship for the PAS program as part of a charitable remainder trust. The retired colonel, who has four degrees including three master’s degrees and a doctorate, has dedicated much of his life to education, and despite his military retirement he continues as a professor and civilian health psychologist with the Army-Baylor University Graduate Program in Health and Business Administration at the Academy of Health Sciences at Fort Sam Houston.

“The School of Health Professions mission overlapped with my philanthropic interests in support of multidisciplinary educational programs and in support of community preparedness and homeland defense,” Dr. Mangelsdorff said.

He also has given smaller gifts to the PAS and Clinical Laboratory Sciences (CLS)programs including a gift to support an exchange program for CLS students with the renowned Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.

“I was fortunate to study abroad as a student at Oxford University and later in Germany on a faculty Fulbright scholarship. Being exposed to different cultures and educational systems broadened my perspectives,” he said.

Linda Smith, Ph.D., chair of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, said: “The exchange program has been an exceptional learning experience for everyone concerned. Our students who go to Karolinska Institutet experience firsthand a different system of health care and health care education. And for our students here who host the Swedish students, it provides an opportunity to get to know their global counterparts in a very personal way.”

As intertwined as the PAS program has been with the military, it serves the civilian population well and the student body is well diversified, with 50 percent of incoming students of Hispanic, African American and Asian descent. “One of our goals is to provide ‘culturally competent care.’ We want our PAs to understand and be familiar with the culture of those they serve,” Forister said.

Looking to the future, Forister added: “We plan to grow our program over time to better serve our expanding service area in South Central Texas. Although we have had cutbacks in state funding, being a state institution also has advantages. Our students benefit from more affordable tuition and many of them take advantage of government loan repayment programs by following our vision of working in health profession shortage areas such as South Texas.”

That is what entering student Darrell Alviar plans to do.

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Look for upcoming Department of Physician Assistant Studies activities and the 10-year anniversary celebration planned for this fall.

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