Impetus for the establishment of a Physician Assistant Program at Baylor College of Medicine arose from several sources. The College's new Ten-Point Expansion Plan for the '70s called for establishment of a Center for Allied Health Manpower Development that would assist in the preparation of individuals to help physicians address the unmet need for medical care in Texas.
The appointment of Henry MacIntosh, M.D., as professor and chair of the College's Department of Medicine brought someone to the institution with prior experience in PA education while a faculty member at Duke University Medical Center. And, with the arrival of Robert J. Luchi, M.D., as vice chair, and chief of Medicine at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, came the willingness to move the agenda for program development forward.
The value of a PA to the delivery of medical care was underscored by the excellent services provided by Ronald Peterson, the first PA to be employed within the Texas Medical Center and the Department of Medicine at the College. After a period of planning, Carl Fasser, academic coordinator for the Duke PA Program, was recruited to further develop and coordinate the program.
Certificate to Degree Program
The PA Certificate Program began in the fall of 1971 as a cooperative effort of the MEDVAMC and Baylor. The original curriculum of the program consisted of hospital- and community-based clerkships through Texas coupled with basic science course work in anatomy, biochemistry, physiology and pharmacology along with pre-clerkship studies in clinical medicine, laboratory medicine, principles of surgery, electrocardiography and radiography. Interview and examination skills were developed as part of physical diagnosis. The program received initial accreditation from the Committee on Allied Health Education and Accreditation in 1973.
In 1974, the learning experiences for PA students were restructured and made more academically rigorous. At the same time, responsibility for providing the didactic instruction and clinical teaching of PA students was shifted to faculty within Baylor departments participating in the program. These curricular enhancements were followed in 1975 by the implementation of an upper-division undergraduate program, with graduates receiving the Bachelor of Science degree from the College. This step was made possible when regional accrediting bodies affirmed the institution’s authority to grant the bachelor’s degree. In 1982, the administrative home of the program shifted from the Baylor Department of Medicine to the Baylor Department of Community Medicine with the appointment of Michael Tristan, M.D., MPH, as medical director.
Graduate Degree Program
In 1988, faculty within the Baylor College of Medicine Department of Community Medicine proposed that a Master of Science degree curriculum for PA education be established within the Graduate School of the College. Advanced learning experiences were felt needed to adequately prepare PAs to provide a major role in health behavioral counseling, and to shift the program’s mission to one of preparing future teachers and administrative leaders for the profession.
The departmental proposal was submitted to the administration of the College in 1988 and received approval by the Board of Trustees in 1989. The new graduate-level curriculum emphasized community-oriented primary care coupled with an epidemiologic approach to understanding health and disease in human populations. Multidimensional assessment, decision analysis and the principles of research design were introduced as methods for goal setting in healthcare, exploring the consequences of aging and their impact on service utilization, and developing skills of critical analysis.
In July 1990, the College became the first institution in Texas and the fourth in the nation to grant the Master of Science degree upon completion of a PA program. The College awards the Master of Science degree upon successful completion of a course and experiential requirements accompanied by the Physician Assistant Certificate signifying attainment of the competencies required for entry-level practice as a physician assistant.