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SLU Physician Assistant Program Celebrates 50 Years

In 2021, the Saint Louis University (SLU) Physician Assistant (PA) Program celebrates its 50th anniversary. The program originally operated as the St. Louis Inter-Institutional Physician Assistant Program and was founded under the auspices of the School of Nursing and Allied Health Professions, in conjunction with the St. Louis Veteran’s Administration Hospitals, the St. Louis Community Colleges and Washington University School of Medicine. Eight students with prior education and experience in health care were selected to begin training in the PA program, which was the first of its kind in the Midwest, in August of 1971. 

SLU PA Class of 1973
SLU PA Class of 1973, on of the program's earliest graduating classes.

During its pilot year, the SLU PA program operated out of the existing administrative structure within the St. Louis Veteran’s Administration Hospitals Division of Research and Education and was funded predominantly by this federal institution. Beginning with its second year, the program sought and received federal funding under a Health Manpower Training Act of 1972. It was under the authority of this act that PA programs began to flourish within medical centers and universities across the United States. Since that time, the SLU PA program has thrived with the participation of Missouri and Illinois community physicians, clinics and healthcare systems, SLU School of Medicine, Washington University and other area institutions in providing instructional faculty and clinical education. Over the past 50 years, the SLU PA program increased its class size from eight matriculants in 1971 to its present 46 students per cohort. As of last year, the program had graduated 1,165 physician assistants.

Today, the PA program is a part of SLU’s Doisy College of Health Sciences and is housed in the Department of Clinical Health Sciences. After years of awarding certificates of completion in Physician Assistant and the Bachelor of Medical Science (BMS) degree, the Master of Medical Science (MMS) degree was conferred upon the PA program’s first three graduate students in 1997. In each subsequent year, the SLU PA program increased the number of class positions available for graduate students. In 2004, the program graduated its first class in which all graduates earned the Master of Medical Science degree – which is the degree current graduates of the program still receive.

SLU PA Program Director, and proud alumna of the program, Caroline Chang, MMS, PA-C, was excited to see the program reach this impressive milestone.

“The PA program celebrating its 50th anniversary is no small feat, especially during the continuation of a global pandemic,” Chang said. “To see our students, faculty and program advance during such significant challenges has been truly rewarding.”

Chang went on to explain that the program has seen such success over the years by staying rooted to the mission of the program and of SLU.

“We have been able to help move our profession forward since 1971. A current cohort of students may look quite different from a typical cohort 50 years ago, yet the end result – the health care provider who graduates – is still the knowledgeable, skilled and professional patient advocate whose care is second to none,” Chang said. “Our program has remained rooted in Jesuit ideals and dedicated to health care excellence and the service of humanity – this has served us well for 50 years and will continue to guide us in the future.”

Over its 50-year history, the SLU PA program has gained a national reputation for excellence in PA education and its alumni are recognized throughout the United States as exceptional and valued members of the health care team. 

Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that values academic excellence, life-changing research, compassionate health care, and a strong commitment to faith and service. Founded in 1818, the University fosters the intellectual and character development of nearly 13,000 students on two campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Building on a legacy of more than 200 years, Saint Louis University continues to move forward with an unwavering commitment to a higher purpose, a greater good.