PAEA 50th Anniversary: Fast Facts About the Baylor College of Medicine PA Program

PAEA 50th Anniversary: Fast Facts About the Baylor College of Medicine PA Program

Courtesy of Katherine Erdman, MPAS, PA-C, & Senior Associate Director, Baylor College of
Medicine PA Program

Program Name and Location: Baylor College of Medicine PA Program, Houston, Texas

Program Mission, Vision & Values:

  • Mission: The BCM Physician Assistant Program educates physician assistants on the principles and practices of medicine to optimize health by providing quality healthcare for diverse populations in a broad range of settings.
  • Vision: Develop a diverse workforce committed to service and the improvement of healthcare through educational innovation and sustained excellence.
  • Values: The core institutional values embraced by the program’s faculty include respect, integrity, innovation, teamwork, and excellence.

What year did your program welcome its first class of students? 1971

What are the key milestones in your program’s history?

The Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) Physician Assistant Program is one of the more than 25 different graduate medical and science programs located in Houston, Texas, and is a part of the Texas Medical Center (TMC), home to the largest medical complex in the world with 54 medicine-related institutions and 21 hospitals. In the 1960s and 1970s, as a part of strategic planning and expansion, BCM created the Center for Allied Health Manpower Development with the goal of training individuals to help physicians address the unmet need for medical care in Texas. With backing from the Chair of the Department of Medicine at BCM and the Chief of Medicine at Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center (MEDVAMC), the Baylor College of Medicine PA Program was founded. Carl Fasser, then serving as academic coordinator for the Duke University PA Program, was recruited to further develop and coordinate the program.

In the fall of 1971, the inaugural class started as a certificate program at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Baylor College of Medicine Physician Assistant Program. Two years later in 1973, the first cohort graduated with 10 students. The program transitioned into a Bachelor of Science degree in 1975 as Baylor College of Medicine implemented upper division undergraduate and graduate programs. Over the next several decades, class size slowly grew to the current cohort size of 40 students per class. In 1990, BCM became the first institution in Texas and fourth in the nation to grant a Master of Science degree upon completion of the PA program. Over the last 50 years, the BCM PA program has continued to be a pioneer in physician assistant education.

How has your program impacted the community it serves?

Students’ community service initiatives include working with victims of human trafficking, community outreach via health fairs, and volunteering with the Boy Scouts of America teaching Advanced Wilderness Medicine courses.

But one community service project in particular stands out: In January 2009, our program sponsored a Burmese Refugee project in collaboration with the AAPA Foundation and several local nonprofits, businesses, schools, and hospitals. Six English-speaking Burmese refugees were hired and trained as full-time Community Health Navigators (CHNs). CHNs served as health educators and assessors, as well as translators and cultural interpreters. Partnered with students in the Baylor PA program, CHNs worked in community Burmese refugee families to address the barriers they faced in receiving access to healthcare and social services. The solutions developed in this program were applied to assist other refugee communities in the Houston area and across Texas access social services and medical care. At the completion of this project, all six Burmese CHNs found employment with refugee resettlement agencies in Houston.

How do you envision the next 50 years of your program?

Our program, like many, is undergoing a time of significant change and growth. The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched us in ways we didn’t know were possible. Our selection process, our curriculum, and our clinical practice will forever be changed, and we are adapting to a new normal. We will need to continue to be flexible and creative as we meet the needs of our learners and patients under new circumstances. We will remain committed to service and improvement of healthcare by contributing to a diverse workforce through educational innovation and sustained excellence.