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PA program honors four decades of service

The accomplishments of Suzanne Greenberg, who established Northeastern’s physician assistant program in 1971 and served as its director until 2006, cannot be understated.

“Sue’s contributions are legendary,” said Rosann Ippolito, a clinical professor and the current director of the physician assistant program in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences.

Many of Greenberg’s accomplishments, Ippolito noted, have been well-received. “She spearheaded the 1973 PA practice act, the law that allowed PAs to practice medicine in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” she explained. “Years later, she was also involved in the passage of prescriptive practice legislation.”

Greenberg, Bouvé’s current associate dean for graduate education, has recently been awarded the PA program’s Outstanding Service Award in honor of her significant contributions to the program. She will retire next June, after more than 40 years on the Northeastern faculty.

Trained as a social worker, Greenberg arrived at Northeastern with the goal of developing the university’s PA program. It launched in 1971 largely as a program to train former military medics for new civilian careers, and in 1985 it became the first in the United States to award a master’s degree.

“There were only a couple of programs like ours when we started and now we’ve got PA programs all over the country,” Greenberg said. “We were charting new ground.”

Greenberg brought problem-based learning — long a staple of medical school training — to PA education, teaching her students to take a broad look at patient care.

“Students were looking at a problem not just as something to diagnose but within a framework of legal, ethical and financial issues,” Greenberg explained.

She also taught doctors and other medical professionals better strategies for teaching students and new employees, writing a widely circulated monograph in the area of preceptor supervision.

As Greenberg put it, “I worked with physicians who knew their medicine, but didn’t always know how to train people.”

The PA professional has grown in the four decades since Greenberg began her career at Northeastern, with many of her students helping plot its still-evolving course.

“It’s very rewarding and exciting to see young people come in eager, enthusiastic and energetic — and yes, often a bit nervous — and come out two years later as really mature individuals,” Greenberg said. “That’s the real reward that comes with teaching these students, something that makes it far more than a job.”