Cathy Shull, MPAS, PA-C, remembers a distinct feeling of anxiety when she graduated from what was then the Bowman Gray School of Medicine PA program in 1980.

50th Anniversary PA ProgramThe profession was just entering its second decade and still existing amidst much uncertainty. At Bowman Gray, one of the few schools with a PA program at the time, the PA student body was small and classes were shoehorned into the Allied Health Building.

After graduation, an uncertain future awaited her. “At that time, our profession was so new, it wasn’t really popular,” she recalled. “We weren’t really sure whether the profession would stand the test of time.

“We were taking a pretty big risk.”

Now when she walks into the Department of PA Studies in the 525@Vine building within the Innovation Quarter, Shull said she feels like those early days were a lifetime ago. “We felt like pioneers,” she remembered.

Today, the PA profession is not only healthy, but thriving and growing, as is the Wake Forest PA program. One of the first PA programs in existence, the Wake Forest PA program is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

To mark the occasion, the department is planning a celebration event in the fall. So mark your calendars for October 19! 

A celebration of people

The 50th Anniversary Celebration will take place on Saturday, October 19, 2019, at the Benton Convention Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., just a few blocks from Innovation Quarter. The program will include a reception, tours of 525@Vine and the PA Studies offices and educational space, presentations by distinguished guests, dinner, and music and dancing.

Gail Curtis - PA Department ChairThe reason for the event is, of course, to celebrate the PA program’s Golden Anniversary, but according to Gail Curtis (’81), MPAS, PA-C, chair of the Department of PA Studies, there’s much more to celebrate.

“We thought it would be appropriate to celebrate all the tremendous accomplishments we’ve had here,” said Curtis. “We also want to honor all of our alumni.” 

Over the program’s five decades, hundreds of students have graduated and have gone on to successful careers as PAs, as well as leaders and educators in the profession. Curtis said the event will be a celebration of those people.

All alumni are invited to the event, including alumni from the program’s very first class, which started in 1969 and graduated in 1971. Curtis said they plan a special recognition for alumni from that class who are able to attend.

Though that promises to be a highlight of the evening, Curtis said the event is for all alumni. “It’s an appreciation for our alumni and all they have done,” she said.

Curtis added that she sees the anniversary event as an opportunity for the alumni to reconnect with their school, or re-establish that connection if they’ve been away for too long. “A lot of our alumni haven’t seen our new building and department,” she said, referring to the Innovation Quarter location in downtown Winston-Salem. “This is an opportunity to see the growth of the program.”

Most importantly, Curtis hopes alumni will attend the event to connect with each other. “It’s a great chance to be with old friends, meet alumni from other classes, and visit with current and former faculty,” she added. 

In addition to alumni, Curtis said that current students, current and former faculty, and preceptors are also invited to the event. “We have a lot to celebrate with everyone associated with the program,” she said. “This program has always been about people, and it’s the relationships that keep it strong.”

A heritage of leadership

One of the central themes of the event will be leadership.

“Through the years, the Wake Forest PA program has built a heritage of leadership,” said Curtis. “It’s always been a part of this program.”

The focus on leadership started with the very founding of the program, being one of the first of its kind in the country. “Today, there are nearly 250 PA programs across the country,” said Curtis. “We’re proud that ours was one of the first five.”

More importantly, the Department of PA Studies has demonstrated leadership in the programs it has created and the students it has graduated.

One of the best recent examples of this is the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), created in collaboration with the Wake Forest School of Business in 2013. ELP students finish their training with two master’s degrees, one a Master of Science in Management from the business school, the other a Master of Medical Science from the Department of PA Studies.

A similar program collaborating with the Wake Forest School of Law recently launched. Through this program, students can earn a Master of Studies in Law as well as an MMS.

Cathy Shull - PA Program

Finally, the Medic to PA program was created to allow active-duty Special Forces medics to work toward becoming a PA between deployments. The program allows these medics to transition to civilian careers more easily, while helping the military recruit and retain them.

These programs and others like them reflect the Department of PA Studies’ commitment to creating leaders. “We’re not just training and graduating great clinicians,” said Shull, who’s an assistant professor in the Department of PA Studies. “We want our graduates to go on to be leaders within the profession.”

That heritage, she continued, is a point of pride for all alumni, faculty, preceptors and others associated with the program. “We’ve had a lot of people who have graduated from this program who have made a name for themselves,” she said. “We want to celebrate them.”

Invitations are in the mail

By the time you read this article, invitations for the 50th Anniversary Celebration will likely have been sent. If you have questions, please contact the Department of PA Studies at 336-716-4356.

During the event, attendees will also have an opportunity to offer a financial donation to help support PA Studies, especially student scholarships. This will include a friendly competition between classes.

Curtis stressed that she didn’t want people to feel obligated. “We would be remiss if we didn’t allow and encourage support for the program,” she admitted. “But we didn’t invite people just to ask them for money.

“This is first and foremost a celebration of everyone who has been a part of Wake PA,” she concluded. “It’s going to be a wonderful evening.”