Alabama Physician Assitants

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Welcome, to Alabama Society of Physician Assistants, representing the PA profession of Alabama.

The University of South Alabama (USA) Department of Physician Assistant Studies

The University of South Alabama (USA) Department of Physician Assistant Studies graduated its first class in 1998, and has awarded over 320 Master of Health Science Degrees since that time. The program was developed in the mid-1990's when the USA administrators recognized a need for a primary care focused PA program in Alabama. The 27-month program indeed has a primary care focus, although the graduates work in a variety of specialties in medicine and surgery, in addition to primary care. USA PA students work side by side with medical, nursing and other allied health students in a variety of clinical settings at USA and within the Mobile community. Students also complete rotations in the northwest Florida and southeast Mississippi region. The program has a solid reputation for producing quality PAs in the region.

Graduates of USA's program currently work in many different states and a few foreign countries, although most are concentrated in the southeastern United States. Most of the PAs currently working in southwest Alabama are USA graduates. Historically, USA graduates have performed well on the PANCE achieving an overall pass rate of about 98% and have become involved in the PA profession, serving in a variety of leadership capacities at the state and national level.

There is an admissions preference for residents of the USA service area which includes all of Alabama and selected counties in southeast Mississippi and northwest Florida. Details about prerequisite courses and other admission criteria may be found at the program's Web site, or by calling (251) 434-3641.

University of Alabama at Birmingham; Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies

Physician Assistants (PAs) are valuable members of a multidisciplinary healthcare team. The profession was established in 1965 to help physicians provide healthcare services to underserved and rural populations. While the profession remains committed to its historical mission, PAs are now employed in almost all medical and surgical settings.

PAs are healthcare professionals licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician. Individual state laws and hospital bylaws define the scope of practice and prescribing authority of physician assistants. In general, most states authorize PAs to prescribe non-controlled substances and perform any task delegated by a supervising physician. To be eligible for licensure, PAs must graduate from an accredited physician assistant program and pass the Physician Assistant National Certification Examination (PANCE).

The surgical physician assistant, functioning under the direction of the surgeon, is expected to perform appropriately delegated tasks autonomously. Yet, the surgical physician assistant will always remain under the guidance and counsel of a surgeon.

Accreditation: The program is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA). Credentials Conferred: Degree–The Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (M.P.A.S.) degree is awarded by the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Professional Certification: Graduates are eligible to apply for the certification examination sponsored by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. Length of Study: 27 months. Term of Enrollment: Fall semester. Surgical Physician Assistant Program Mission: The mission of the Surgical Physician Assistant Program at UAB is to train health care professionals who are qualified to work as dependent professionals under physicians and surgeons in patient care activities. Program Link:

Program History

1967-1974: The Formative Years; Program Director: Alan Dimick, M.D. (1967-1969); Margaret K. Kirklin, M.D. (1969-1974)

The Surgeon's Assistant Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham was created in 1967 by the nationally recognized cardiac surgeon Dr. John W. Kirklin. His motivation for establishing the program developed while he was at the Mayo Clinic and resident physicians were operating a newly developed pump oxygenator. Dr. Kirklin reasoned that non-physicians with the appropriate aptitude and training could be utilized instead of resident physicians to operate the complicated device. Additionally, Dr. Kirklin observed that the training of physicians was changing to the degree that resident surgeons were training for shorter periods of time. Dr. Kirklin believed that the presence of a trained assistant (i.e., surgeon's assistant) would improve patient care by allowing attending physicians to delegate appropriate tasks and help with the education of the resident physicians. These factors led to the creation of what is now known as the UAB Surgical Physician Assistant Program.

The UAB Surgical Physician Assistant Program was initially established as a Surgeon's Assistant program under the administrative control of the Department of Surgery. Graduates were awarded a Certificate of Proficiency upon completion of the two-year program. In 1972, a formal relationship between the Department of Surgery and the School of Community and Allied Health was established to allow qualified students to earn a Bachelors of Science degree. In 1971, legislation was passed that allowed surgeons and physician assistants to practice in Alabama under the regulation of the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners.

Dr. Alan Dimick served as the first program director of the Surgeon's Assistant Program for a period of two years from 1967 to 1969. Dr. Margaret K. Kirklin served as program director from 1969-1974. In 1974, the program received its initial accreditation by the Joint Review Committee of the American Medical Association Council on Medical Education in collaboration with the American College of Surgeons. Since that time, the program has maintained continuous accreditation

1974 to 1992: Building a Foundation; Program Director: Henry L. Laws, M.D. (1974-1982); J. Garber Galbraith, M.D. (1982-1984); Joaquin S. Aldrete (1984-1996); Associate Director: Jacqueline Hall, SA (1974-1992)

Jacqueline Hall, a 1969 graduate, served as the associate director of the program from 1974 to 1992. Under Mrs. Hall's leadership, the program established a national reputation of excellence for the training of surgeon's assistants. The surgeon employers were plentiful and UAB graduates were taking positions throughout the country. Competition for admission to the program was intense with over 300 applicants for 15 slots. Program graduates were allowed to sit for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) beginning in 1982. In 1991, the administrative control of the program was transferred from the Department of Surgery to the School of Health Related Professions, formerly known as the School of Community and Allied Health. This period of time marked an explosion within the physician assistant profession as a whole and for the subspecialty practice of surgeon's assistants in particular.

1992-1997: Modernization; Program Director: Joaquin S. Aldrete, M.D. (1984-1996); Associate Director: Craig Cilimberg, PA-C (1992-1996); Program Director: Craig Cilimberg, PA-C (1996-1997); Medical Director: Joaquin S. Aldrete, M.D. (1996-1999)

Following Ms. Hall's retirement in 1992, Craig Cilimberg, PA-C, was named associate director. Prior to being chosen as associate director Mr. Cilimberg, a 1982 graduate of the program, worked for Dr. Kirklin as his surgeon's assistant. Mr. Cilimberg strengthened the program's didactic curriculum and diversified the clinical curriculum. These modifications provided graduates with greater knowledge of primary care medicine, without sacrificing the superior technical skills expected of UAB graduates. These actions had an immediate impact on the quality of the program and its success on the PANCE examination. In less than 5 years, the program's pass rate improved from less than 50% in 1992 to over 90% in 1996. From 1996 through 2000 the program achieved pass rates greater than 90%. In 1996, the Standards and Guidelines for an Accredited Educational Program for the Physician Assistant were revised, essentially merging the accreditation standards for both physician assistant and surgeon's assistant programs. At about the same time, the program changed its name to the Surgical Physician Assistant Program to clearly distinguish UAB graduates as formally trained physician assistants, and not surgical technicians. In another administrative change, Craig Cilimberg was named program director and Dr. Joaquin Aldrete was named medical director.

1998- 2003: Growth; Program Director: Joe K. Gerald, M.D. (1997-2002); Medical Director: Joaquin S. Aldrete, M.D. (1996-1999); John Gleysteen, M.D. (1999-present)

Joe K. Gerald, M.D. was named program director following Craig Cilimberg's return to full-time clinical practice in 1997. Dr. Gerald served as associate director prior to being named program director. Under Dr. Gerald's leadership, the program added 3.75 FTE faculty, strengthened its didactic curriculum, and continued to diversify its clinical curriculum. Between 1996 and 2001, the program maintained a PANCE pass rate greater than 90% and established its highest ever pass rate of 96% in 1998.


Doris Rapp, Pharm. D., PA-C was named program director in July 2003. In June 2005, the SPA Program became a Master's level entry program and the first class of Masters students to the new program entered in fall 2005. In January 2006, Herbert Ridings MA, PA-C replaced Doris Rapp as program director. John Baddley M.D. was also appointed Associate Medical Director in an effort to improve the internal medicine component of the program.

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