A celebration of PA pioneers

By Alex Branch

Dr. Lemke and Dr. Barron


Karen Kindler felt cautious at her interview as a prospective student in the physician assistant studies program two decades ago.

The UNT Health Science Center’s PA program was brand new and accepting its first class of students.

“I came with a lot of questions because it wasn’t yet a proven program,” said Kindler, PA-C. “But after I spent time with faculty I realized they were ready to truly invest in us. I knew this was where I wanted to be.”

Kindler, a member of the program’s first graduating class in 1999, returned to campus in July to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the program’s founding in 1997. More than 125 alumni, faculty, staff and current students gathered to reminisce and reconnect.

Since Kindler’s 11-member inaugural graduating class, the PA program has grown to enroll 75 students each year. In all, the program has produced 693 physician assistants, many of whom practice in North Texas. U.S. News & World Report ranks the program in the Top 35 nationally.

“At the time I graduated, I probably didn’t realize the significance of being a member of that first class,” said Kindler, who practices in the field of vascular surgery in hospitals around Fort Worth. “But when I look at the program today, I feel very proud.”

Hank Lemke, DHSc, PA-C, DFAAPA, was recognized at the celebration for his role as the program’s founding director. Dr. Lemke says helping launch the PA program is his proudest career achievement.

“I am so proud of everyone who is, and has been, associated with this PA program,” Dr. Lemke said. “I look forward to watching our alumni continue to play a distinctive role in developing the future of this wonderful profession.”

For alumni who had not returned to campus recently, much has changed at the Health Science Center. New buildings have risen and construction is progressing on the five-story Interdisciplinary Research and Education Building off Camp Bowie Boulevard.

What hasn’t changed, several alumni said, is that the UNTHSC graduates they encounter in hospitals, clinics and other health care settings remain exquisitely trained.

“Our alumni are one of our greatest assets as we educate and prepare the next generation of physician assistants to become leaders in health care,” said Kirk W. Barron, PA-C, PhD, Chairman and Program Director of the physician assistant studies program. “Together, I know we can build on this momentum for the future.”

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