Frank Ambriz, Physician Assistant Program chair, An Example to Follow

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Frank Ambriz, Physician Assistant program’s Chair of the Department. Photo By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

Mega Doctor News – 

By Maryann Escamilla,

South Texas is so fortunate to have the Physician’s Assistant (PA) Graduate Program at the Health Affairs Building East.

On the second story of the building photos from each past year adorn the walls.  Signifying one more group of students who went on to serve the community.  But, if one looks even closer, one face stands out. That is the face of Frank Ambriz, the PA program’s long-standing champion and present Chair of the Department.  To understand his dedication and the connection that Ambriz has to the PA program and the PA program to him, one only need to know his story, and we recognize that while a PA program may have developed without him, but it is a guarantee it would not have thrived without him.

Ambriz was born and raised in Elsa, Texas and while in high school he was known as “the computer who wore tennis shoes.” Ambriz received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from Pan American University in 1977 and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Health Care Sciences and Physician Assistant Studies from University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston in 1979. He then completed a Master’s Degree from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Family and Urgent Care.   In 2003, Ambriz finished the first year of law school from Concord Law School in Los Angeles, California. In 2005, he completed 40 post graduate doctoral hours in basic medical sciences.

Before joining UTPA in 1999, Ambriz spent ten years as a Clinical Assistant Professor with UTMB-Galveston. At UTMB, he precepted PA students, NP students, Medical Students and Medical Residents in Family Medicine.  His mentor Dr. Richard Rahr, Program Director for the UTMB PA program, recruited Ambriz to head the cooperative PA program at the UTPA campus in 1994.  Dr. Rahr asked Ambriz said, “give [me] two years, and I will convince you that you will enjoy academia.”  Twenty-two years later, Ambriz understands.  As Chair and Program director of the UTPA Program, Ambriz received state recognition as an Educator of the Year (1994) and the program enjoys national recognition in graduating a high rate of minority students.

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His interest is in new teaching strategies leading to excellence.  His students rate him above average, and his faculty seeks his advice in advancing their teaching methods.  Never accepting the status quo, he is always researching the latest teaching modalities that can have a great impact on the students.  In 2012, he received a five-year HRSA grant to reform the PA curriculum into a new paradigm shift in medical education involving more active learning and utilization of technology.  The grant also provides for training new and future faculty for the new model change. The Medical Academic Scholar Certificate is an online 30 module program that is offered by the Continuing Education department. Seven students completed the certificate in the first year

The new teaching modalities convert the passive teaching methods to more active teaching including; team-based learning, the flipped classroom, integrated modular curriculum and the use of the iPad in the classroom.  In Oct. 2013, the PA Department received the prestigious Distinguish Apple Award for innovation, leadership, and excellence in education. The program again attained this honor in 2015.  Ambriz continues to teach the students and secured grant funding to develop his faculty to become excellent academic scholars in teaching. In 2012, Ambriz was selected as one of thirteen individuals across all the UT System academic and medical campuses as a Health Professional Scholar.

A significant change these past two years has been the dissolution of UTPA and the creation of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the creation of the Medical School to serve the region.  Because of these changes, the PA program is now under the UTRGV umbrella and continues to receive national recognition and most recently received accreditation approval to increase the class size from 50 to 100.  The program receives well over 1200 applications for these limited slots from students coming from within the US and internationally. With strong support from UTRGV administration, the program has grown from three full-time faculties in 1994 to its current 15 faculty department.

The program was developing two doctoral degrees and several post-graduate certificates.  One new program is the online “Bridge Program,” designed to award a Master’s degree to practicing Physician Assistant with a Bachelor’s degree.  Recently, it ranked first among all online graduate PA programs.  Ambriz looks forward to future opportunities for the program and the creation of the Medical School. MDN