A unique and lasting legacy

If Gregory Kolbinger had a motto, it could be “I’ll serve where I’m needed.” An early leader in DMU’s physician assistant program, he also pioneered the University’s simulation program and taught in all three colleges. 

Gregory Kolbinger, MPAS, PA-C, assistant professor emeritus of family medicine (retired 2019), is photographed Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Photo by Christian Photo)

DMU asked Gregory Kolbinger to do a lot during his nearly three decades at the University. True to his nature, however, he sees it a different way. 

“What I love about DMU is that it’s given me the opportunity to try new things and fill different niches,” he says. “The opportunities just presented themselves, and DMU has always been big on getting people the training and skills they need to take them on.” 

Kolbinger retired in June as assistant professor emeritus of family medicine, but his legacy will continue for years to come. After serving his country as a medical service specialist with the U.S. Air Force during the late 1970s cold war, he was serving his community as a paramedic when a friend, Jerry Crane, told him he was going to apply for a new physician assistant (PA) program at the University of Osteopathic Medicine and Health Sciences (now DMU); Kolbinger decided to join him. The two were among the 12 members of the DMU PA Class of 1985, the University’s third PA class. 

In 1987, his former faculty, including Bill Case, PA-C, and Bill Dyche, Ph.D., asked him to return as their colleague. He became an instructor, clinician, academic coordinator and admissions coordinator for the PA program. He missed patient care so left in 1989 to join the Mercy Occupational Medicine Clinic, Pain Center, Mercy Clinics and Mercy Hospital in Des Moines. Five years later, though, Case lured him back. 

“I was more seasoned and ready for it,” Kolbinger says. “And there was exciting growth in the program and in the profession in terms of PAs’ scope of practice, responsibilities and respect. It was fun to see.” 

There was also a lot to do. He “had fingers in everything over time,” including as an assistant professor, clinician, academic coordinator, admissions coordinator and director. In 2007, when the University opened a new human simulation center – the only one of its kind in Iowa at the time – he was asked to serve as its clinical coordinator. 

“Greg was a quiet doer. He taught just about everything, served on almost every faculty committee and so many search committees,” says Wayne Terry, Ph.D., professor emeritus of physiology and pharmacology. “He never backed away from anyone – colleague, employee, student, anyone who had a need. His door was always open for nonjudgmental listening.” 

“The man is the father, the brother, the friend, the colleague anyone would be proud to claim because of the class, honor, dignity, empathy, intelligence, thoughtfulness and warmth he packed in his work bag every day.” 

Wayne Terry, Ph.D., professor emeritus, physiology and pharmacology 

Kolbinger was in the first class Terry taught at DMU and, Terry says, later was pivotal in the PA program’s high quality. “It was always my opinion that Greg and his friend and fellow PA, colleague Bill Case, were responsible for elevating the curriculum of the PA program,” he says. “It was those two who committed the PA program to an academic standard equal to the D.O. program.” 

Jodi Cahalan, Ph.D., M.P.H.’01, M.S.’93, PA-C’89, DFAAPA, first met Kolbinger when she enrolled in the PA program in 1987. “He’s a very good professor. He taught us physical diagnosis and the heart of what it means to be a PA,” she says. “It’s more than those technical skills; it includes making sure you’re listening to the patient, taking that holistic approach and also making sure you have a good relationship with your supervising doctor.” 

Now dean of the College of Health Sciences, Cahalan greatly enjoyed working with her colleague. “When I think of all the students he has impacted, it’s staggering,” she says. 

Kolbinger and his wife of 43 years, Vicki, look forward to spending more time with their three daughters and four grandchildren. He also has begun his new role as an ordained deacon for the Diocese of Des Moines, assigned to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart in Ankeny, IA. Serving as a deacon taps his ability to work with and serve a lot of different types of people, as he did at DMU. It also aligns with a lesson he learned in the Air Force while stationed in Turkey. 

“One of the fun things we got to do was to visit little villages. The custom there was to sit down, talk and have tea before getting down to business,” he recalls. “That taught me to slow down and talk to people and listen.” 

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