It started with a room in the back of the Mission Osteopathic Medical Center on Mission Boulevard, down the street from WesternU. They sat in the same seats in the same order — Rosalind Munoz (Espanto), Daniel Lowery, Gerald G. Glass, Tina M. Melendrez (Meyer), Brian W. Davis and Paige M. Myers (McNamara).

These six Western University of Health Sciences students embarked on a path to become Physician Assistants (PA) in 1990. Members of the charter class helped define themselves and the program, often teaching each other. They developed their own rotations as well, needing places to apply the skills they learned. Faculty from COMP and other guest lecturers helped teach.

“”It was very much an adventure in self-study,”” said Tina Meyer, PA ’92, MSHS, Chair of the Department of Health Sciences, on remembering her first year as a student. “”We had to build our own collaborations and our own relationships. We had to arrange our own rotations, making those agreements on behalf of the program. We started that process of students going out on rotations.””

The Department of Physician Assistant Education was the third program on campus and was founded to address the shortage of health care providers in the western states. The original members of the first PA class are recounting their early days and looking forward to celebrating the program’s 20th year at the end of January.

The six charter class members all did their rotations at White Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles, spending one to two months covering medicine services. During that year, fellow student Daniel Lowery was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Lowery became a patient at the hospital, and the rest of the students helped take care of him while rotating through.

“”That was awesome to be in such a tight-knit group and then have one of us felled so drastically and also to serve him as a primary care giver,”” said Meyer.

“”It was pretty neat to learn from the ground up and actually apply that skill so readily to someone that we knew.””

Lowery graduated with his fellow students and successfully took the board exam.

College of Allied Health Professions Dean Stephanie Bowlin, EdD, PA, was hired as an instructor in May 1990 to bring stability to the program.

“”When we first started at WesternU, everything was at a slower pace. We had more time,”” said Bowlin. “”Now the students are Internet-based and they want it yesterday. They want to tweet, e-mail, they want to text, and so I really see technology playing a larger role in the way curriculum is delivered in our PA program.””

Twenty years later, the PA program has grown from six students to 98 students. The profession has also grown during this time, from 6,000 PAs nationally to 60,000.

A reception celebrating the PA program’s 20th anniversary will be held Friday, Jan. 29, 2010. Alumni will be invited back to see the growth of the campus with the addition of the new buildings and the new PA Skills Lab.

In conjunction with the 20th anniversary celebration, alumni will be asked to contribute $20 each for a new PA Scholarship — The Physician Assistant Profession Alumni Scholarship Award. The scholarship will help graduates defray the cost of becoming a PA, such as board costs, licensure fees, and Drug Enforcement Administration fees, said Roy Guizado, MS, PA-C, Chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Education.

The PA program was founded to address the shortage of health care providers in the Western states and was aimed at supplying much-needed health care to underserved populations. PAs provide health care in conjunction with a physician. They work in every facet of medicine, focusing on primary care.

“”Our program is very representative of the PA spirit, to give a hand to the community that needs it. We start that with our students right away,”” Guizado said.

“”We wanted to educate and provide primary care physician assistants in very much the same fashion the osteopathic school was providing primary care physicians.””

Today’s PA students carry on the tradition of excellence developed by the charter class 20 years ago. Shamim Remtulla, PA ’10, says she came to WesternU’s PA program because of its reputation as a culturally diverse, professional, warm and friendly environment, and its excellent pass rate on the national board exam.

“”PA school showed me that there are human beings in the world with the intention to help and heal others regardless of reward or prestige,”” she said.