Alumni spotlight: Robert C. Birk, Jr., PA-C’02

DMU alumnus named Wisconsin PA of the Year.

Robert C. Birk, Jr., PA-C'02
Robert C. Birk, Jr., PA-C’02

Robert Birk, PA-C’02, is an Air Force veteran, a father and a health care provider in the Wisconsin county where he grew up. To many, he’s also a hero who always goes the extra mile for his patients.

“I cannot say enough how much he cares about his patients…his patients know he cares,” says Katie Morris, a nurse practitioner in Maramet, WI. She considers Birk a hero, too: When her planned preceptor was terminated one month before her first clinical rotation, he came to her rescue. She says her experience with him at Community Memorial Hospital Oconto Medical Center in Oconto, WI, taught her both about medicine and the value of collaboration among health care professionals.

“The knowledge imparted to me was priceless,” she says. “Rob helped me gain confidence in my abilities and showed me the importance of developing relationships with trusted colleagues.”

Morris’ comments were part of her nomination of Birk for the Wisconsin Academy of Physician Assistants (WAPA) 2012 Physician Assistant of the Year, an honor he accepted in October. He was selected for his excellence in patient care through relationships with his patients and with his trusted colleagues, as well as for his service both in and outside of the medical community.

“He really goes the extra mile,” Morris says. “He made me want to be that provider.”

Birk began his career as a medic with the U.S. Force. His mentors included Captain Jesse Ewing, PA-C, who involved him in clinical cases and counseled him on his future.

“I told PA Ewing that eventually I wanted to return to my hometown community and provided the much-needed medical care there,” Birk recalls. “I spoke about going to medical school. He stopped me and said, ‘Why not be a PA? You can still be that small-town guy…most of your patients will still call you their ‘doctor.’”

That put Birk on a PA path. He soldiered through his academic prerequisites between active duty and deployments to Saudi Arabia and Cuba. Once he was accepted into DMU’s PA program, his hospital commander agreed to release him from active military duty requirements 18 months early. The base commander denied his release, however.

“I was devastated, to say the least,” Birk recalls. “My career goal hung right in front of me, just out of reach.”

Enter Pam Chambers, M.P.H.’01, PA-C’92, associate professor in DMU’s PA program, and Jodi Cahalan, Ph.D., M.P.H.’01, M.S.’93, PA-C’89, then program director and now dean of the College of Health Sciences. They gave Birk a deferral that allowed him to begin the program the following year.

“Rob was just one of those guys that I knew would do great things in our profession, just as soon as I met him,” Chambers says.

Birk says he’s doing exactly what he wants – being that “small-town guy” in the county where he grew up, taking care of people he knew as a youngster, friends and now their children.

“I couldn’t be happier,” he says. “I thank DMU’s PA program for giving me the knowledge and tools I need to be a great primary care provider.”

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