Baylor’s PA Program Reaches a Major Milestone
This year, Baylor College of Medicine’s Physician Assistant Program reached the half-century mark. The PA Program currently ranks first in Texas and third nationally, and it is widely known for its excellent instruction and outstanding graduates. However, when the program began, some were skeptical of the still-evolving PA profession’s future.
Baylor’s PA Program was conceived of as part of the College’s plan to develop a center for allied health, which ultimately became the School of Health Professions. In 1971, Duke University PA Program instructor Carl Fasser, P.A., arrived in Houston to be the inaugural director of Baylor’s program.
“I was very familiar with PA programs across the country, so I developed Baylor’s program to build on their strengths and avoid their weaknesses,” Mr. Fasser said.
He admits there were some challenges with getting the program off the ground. Namely, as a fairly new profession that did not yet have licensing standards, some faculty members and medical students questioned the program’s value. Others wondered—sometimes aloud—if Baylor’s PA Program would inadvertently encourage the unlicensed practice of medicine.
“We had to go before the Harris County Medical Society and explain ourselves,” Mr. Fasser said.
Dwight Deter, P.A., was among the first cohort to receive a bachelor’s degree after completing Baylor’s PA Program. Until 1976, program participants earned a certificate. Mr. Deter remembers how medical students quickly realized the value of the PA profession after witnessing program participants’ aptitude, dedication and technical skill.
“They were so struck by our knowledge and ability that after graduating from the School of Medicine, those new doctors sought to hire PAs,” Mr. Deter said.
Mr. Deter, who has the distinction of holding the first PA license number issued in Texas, credits Mr. Fasser as a major driving force in the success of the program and its trainees.
“He was an incredible teacher and role model,” Mr. Deter said. “He wanted all of us to be perfect and really instilled in us the value that we brought to the healthcare field.”
In 1989, it was decided that Baylor’s PA Program would grant master’s degrees.
“These [PA] students were performing at the same level as medical students, and the number of credits they needed for their degree was twice the amount as a typical bachelor of science,” Mr. Fasser said. “It was a logical next step.”
To date, the PA Program has graduated 1,245 talented healthcare professionals. In August 2021, Baylor welcomed 40 new students to its 50th program cohort.
“Baylor provided fertile ground for the program to grow,” Mr. Fasser said. “Like a plant, it took some time to blossom, but now it’s exceptionally strong and healthy.”