The Department of Physician Assistant at Western Michigan University offers graduate students preparation to become a primary care physician assistant. Founded in 1972, it is one of the original programs in the state. The PA program has alumni providing services throughout the United States and many of them have become leaders in the field.

The application process to the program is very competitive with hundreds of applicants competing for 36 to 40 seats per year. The didactic phase (first year) is completely taught within the College of Health and Human Services, while the clinical phase (second year) utilizes clinical rotation sites throughout Michigan and the United States.

Mission, Vision, Philosophy

  • Mission

    The Department of Physician Assistant at Western Michigan University is dedicated to educating competent, caring physician assistants to practice primary care medicine in all areas of society.

  • Vision

    WMU will prepare the highest quality physician assistants to practice medicine within the changing health care environment of 21st century.

  • Philosophy

    The aim of the program is to facilitate the acquisition of the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to respond positively to the challenges and opportunities of future trends in health care delivery. The focus is on "higher order learning" to prepare the physician assistant student for critical thinking, ethical decision-making and the synthesis and judgment of problems, based on the bio-psycho-social model. The PA student will be insightful and aware of his or her own professional role and limitations, as well as the needs, styles, and values of patients, and those of other health professionals. PA students are considered "lifelong learners" of the art and science of medicine, as well as active learners who ask questions, uncover meaning and make decisions.


BirchWilliam Birch, M.D., obstetrician and gynecologist, is credited with founding the physician assistant program at Western Michigan University in 1972, making it one of the first PA programs in the nation and the second in Michigan. Through his continual presence at the state capitol and persistent determination, Birch convinced the legislature that educating physician assistants would be beneficial—and that locating the program in Kalamazoo at WMU would assure its success.

The profession flourished, primarily in great part by the return from Vietnam of military personnel who were trained as medics and who wished to forge a civilian career using their acquired medical skills. Still a popular educational goal, with abundant job opportunities and generous entry-level salaries, WMU's program attracts hundreds of qualified applicants each year.

In 1998, the WMU program converted from baccalaureate to master's degree level, a national trend and another indication that the profession has significantly advanced its stature in the short span of its existence.