‘This has been my home.’ Associate dean leaving HSC after nearly 38 years of special memories.
By Diane Smith
When Patricia Gwirtz, PhD, FACC, FAHA, retires from her post as Associate Dean of Education at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences on June 30, she leaves the campus with bragging rights – she has taught physiology to every medical student since 1982.
Dr. Gwirtz also taught every student in the physician assistant, physical therapy and medical science programs. As one of the longest-serving female faculty employees at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth, she eases into her next chapter with the mixed feelings that characterize good-byes and new beginnings.
“This has been home,” Dr. Gwirtz said. “It’s been my life for a long, long time.”
Dr. Gwirtz arrived at the Fort Worth campus in October 1982. At the time, the Research & Education Building had just opened. Since then, the campus has grown in students, programs and buildings. She has taken many roles, including teaching physiology and conducting physiology research on neural control of coronary circulation and heart function, and adaptations of coronary and cardiac function during exercise as well as during hypertension.
Dr. Gwirtz’s research was funded by NIA, AHA and AOA for 35 years.
She has been responsible for many administrative duties and is credited with building the Medical Science Specialized Master’s Program to its current level of national prominence, said Dr. Thomas Yorio, Provost Emeritus and Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Neuroscience.
“She was instrumental in making this a success and in transforming the lives of these students,” he said, adding that she as an outstanding educator and student advocate. “She has had a tremendous impact on students at the Health Science Center and will be missed.”
A devotion to students
Dr. Gwirtz’s connection and love for HSC was always on display, said Carla Johnson, Executive Director of Student Services and Admissions for the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
“Students have always had her heart,” Johnson said. “She is compassionate but willing to provide the straight-forward guidance that many students have not received. She has influenced thousands of students who successfully pursued their dreams of becoming health professionals in medicine and dentistry.”
As Associate Dean of Education, Dr. Gwirtz oversaw the Medical Science, Clinical Research Management and Biotechnology programs. She developed curricula and advised students in the three programs. Before that, she served as Year One Curriculum Director of TCOM for 12 years.
The Medical Science program started in 2000 with Dr. Yorio serving as GSBS Dean at the time, Dr. Gwirtz said, explaining the early days of the program.
“It started with seven students in the first year, and it has exploded,” she said. The Medical Science Program averages about 230 students per class.
During weekends, she spends hours writing recommendation letters for the Medical Science students.
“I probably write close to 150 a year,” she said. “That’s my weekend job.”
Dr. Gwirtz stays connected with many of her former students.
“It is amazing to me, the students, who are Medical Science graduates, who are out there in practice and have their own kids who are starting college. It’s just been amazing,” she said.
‘Your heart is where your family is’
The global COVID-19 pandemic this year affected her cherished commencement ceremonies, which were held virtually for health precautions.
“It’s all been bittersweet right now because it was the last MedSci class, and I never got a chance to hood them and give them hugs and wish them well as they go on to their futures,” said Dr. Gwirtz, who fondly describes the “Gwirtz Box,” a stage prop that allowed the 4-foot-11 professor to hood students taller than her.
Dr. Gwirtz will remain connected in an adjunct position and plans to apply for an emeritus professorship.
Dr. Michael Mathis, Dean of GSBS, announced that a scholarship is being created in honor of Dr. Gwirtz. The GSBS endowed $25,000 to establish a scholarship that will be available to students in the Master’s in Medical Science program beginning next year.
“We will seek to grow the scholarship with a fundraising campaign as well,” Dr. Mathis said, adding that GSBS expects that initially at least one $1,000 scholarship will be awarded each year.
Dr. Mathis said that in addition to academic performance standards, the scholarships would be awarded to students who demonstrate a record of community service.
“Community service has been a cornerstone activity initiated by Dr. Gwirtz for our Medical Sciences students, which embodies the values of HSC in serving others first,” Dr. Mathis said.
Taking a tour of national parks sits high on Dr. Gwirtz’s “to-do list,” as does reading and volunteer work. She has served as a longtime mentor and board member with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and plans to continue that work. In 2005, she was recognized as a Big Sister of the Year by the North Texas Big Brothers Big Sisters Association.
She also is a volunteer for Therapy Dogs International and the Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas.
Dr. Gwirtz said she loves Texas, but her heart is calling her back to Pennsylvania where she grew up. She and her Maltipoo, Maggie, are joining family near Philadelphia.
“I love Fort Worth, but your heart is where your family is,” she said.