Physician assistant program celebrates 10th anniversary

President of first graduating class enjoying career in neurosurgery treating veterans

Contact: Catherine Duncan, (210) 567-2570

SAN ANTONIO (Oct. 2, 2012) — Julie Dylla, PA-C, began working at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital as a nurse’s aide during her senior year of nursing school at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing, she was hired there as a registered nurse in surgical intensive care.

Dylla worked for eight years as an RN in the veterans hospital’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit and then two years in the ear, nose and throat clinic. “Although I enjoyed my career as a nurse, I decided I wanted to do more. I wanted to be trained in a medical model. I liked the idea of working with a physician. That is why I decided to become a physician assistant.”

In 2000, she decided to return to school and, unknowingly, ended up being in the first graduating class of the Physician Assistant Studies program at the UT Health Science Center.

“At that time, one or two civilians were allowed to participate in the Army physician assistant program at BAMC (Brooke Army Medical Center). Congressman Frank Tejeda had worked with the military to allow civilians to fill one or two empty slots in the military class. He was trying to help rural areas get much-needed health care by providing PAs from San Antonio,” she explained.

During the interview process, Dylla was asked to be one of the student pioneers of the new PA program at the Health Science Center. “I knew the need was out there, and I knew the department would work hard to get this new program up and running. I am really happy to see the growth in the program over the last 10 years,” she said.

Dylla, who was the president of that initial PA class, graduated as a physician assistant in 2002 and has been employed since then in neurosurgery at the VA. “The VA program is closely affiliated with the Department of Neurosurgery at the Health Science Center. Dr. David Jimenez, who is the department chair; Dr. Franklin Epstein and Dr. Alexander Papanastassiou work with me at the VA.

“In my role as PA, I take calls at any time and seek consults in the emergency room and in the wards. I am the first to meet the patient and then decide if a neurosurgeon needs to be called in. The patient sees me before and after surgery. I also perform first-assist duties during surgery,” Dylla said.

The VA neurosurgery department sees veterans from south of Temple to Brownsville. “We process approximately 160 consults a month. It is a very challenging career. I am always learning something new,” she said.

Dylla said she is at a point where she can teach what she has learned. “I am training residents and having PAs shadow me so they can learn about neurosurgery and decide if this is what they want to study. I believe the next step in my career will be in education.”

As the Health Science Center celebrates the 10th anniversary of its PA program, each year a new class of PAs enters the health care field. The physician assistant program is now a 26-month master’s program with 12 months in the didactic (classroom) phase and 14 months in the clinical (hands-on patient care) phase. The class size is limited to 40 students each year.

J. Glenn Forister, M.S., M.P.A.S., PA-C, physician assistant chair, said the program is helping to serve the health manpower needs of San Antonio and South Texas.

“Although some graduates work in specialty practice, more than half are working in primary care and approximately one-third are working in medically underserved areas,” he said. “We train our students to become a member of the larger health care team. Physician assistants partner with their supervising physicians to increase patient access to care and to provide an enhanced level of service.”

Forister said the program’s 10th anniversary allows “us to celebrate the success of our graduates while considering how much more there is to accomplish.”

Physician Assistant Week is Oct. 6-12. The annual event commemorates the first graduating class of PAs at Duke University on Oct. 6, 1967. The UT Health Science Center Physician Assistant Alumni Association is hosting a celebration on Saturday, Oct. 6, for alumni, current students and others affiliated with the program during the past 10 years. Proceeds from the dinner and dance at Pedrotti’s North Wind Ranch will go toward creating a Student Enrichment Fund. The fund is being created in order to one day fund tutoring services, community service initiatives, student research projects and scholarships to current students.


The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, one of the country’s leading health sciences universities, ranks in the top 3 percent of all institutions worldwide receiving federal funding. Research and other sponsored program activity totaled $231 million in fiscal year 2011. The university’s schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced approximately 28,000 graduates. The $736 million operating budget supports eight campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. For more information on the many ways “We make lives better®,”   visit

Share This Article!