Physician assistant program celebrates 50 years at WMU

Contact: Joel Krauss

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—In 2022, the physician assistant program at Western Michigan University celebrated 50 years of preparing physician assistant professionals. Founded in 1972, it was one of the first PA programs in the nation and the second in Michigan. 

Dr. William Birch

William Birch, M.D., obstetrician and gynecologist, founded the PA program at Western. Through his determination and regular presence at the state capitol, Birch convinced the legislature that educating physician assistants would be beneficial — and that locating a program at WMU in Kalamazoo would assure its success.

The PA profession flourished after the end of the Vietnam War, when veterans trained as medics came home to forge careers with the medical skills the learned while serving in the military. The profession and Western’s program continues to flourish today with growing demand in the field and generous starting salaries. Our alumni have gone on to provide services throughout the United States, many becoming leaders in the field.

In 1998, the WMU program was converted from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree, following a national trend and indicating that the profession was advancing technically in the landscape of healthcare. 

Today, the Department of Physician Assistant offers an entry-level, full-time, 24-month program that leads to a Master of Science in Medicine (M.S.M.). Each fall, the department welcomes a new cohort of 40 students to the program. In the end, our graduates are prepared to take the certifying exam to become licensed as a physician assistant.

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