COLLEAGUES DON’T HESITATE when they describe Jodi Cahalan, PA-C’89, M.S.’93, M.P.H.’01, Ph.D., DFAAPA: “Highly respected.” “A very talented health care professional and executive in health sciences education.” “Genuinely passionate about her work.” But ask Cahalan about her retirement in March as dean of the College of Health Sciences (CHS) and a DMU employee since 1989, she pauses, an expression of incredulity on her face.
“I’ve been employed here longer than I’ve been married,” she marvels. “How can I have been here for 30 years? It boggles my mind.”
It’s been an action-packed three decades for CHS. The PA program transitioned from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree; the physical therapy program, from a master’s to a doctoral degree. The master of health care administration and master of public health degree programs are now available entirely online. But the biggest transformation, Cahalan notes, has occurred in the art and science of education and the increasingly rigorous accreditation standards for the college’s four programs.
“The work of faculty is so different from when I started. It isn’t just ‘Are you teaching students the clinical skills they need?’; it’s also showing that students have achieved competency,” she says. “That’s why I’ve always wanted to be a strong advocate for our faculty, knowing how complicated their jobs are.”
As a physician assistant in Clinton, IA, Cahalan returned to campus in 1989 to take the national board exam for PAs. Gregory Kolbinger, PA-C’85, then a member of the PA faculty and now assistant professor emeritus of family medicine, asked her to join the program. She did. Soon after, employee transitions led to her and Dan Chambers, PA-C, being the program’s only two faculty members.
“She did all the curriculum, I did everything on the clinical side and together we did the labs,” says Chambers, now associate professor emeritus. “We put in long hours. We just kept at it.”
In 1994, over lunch at the now-defunct Duck Blind, fellow faculty convinced Cahalan to step up as chair of the PA program. Until then, the PA chairs all were basic sciences faculty.
She was ready for leadership roles: When Allan Hoffman, Ed.D., became dean of the College of Health Sciences in 1997, he appointed her associate dean. She went on to become the college’s first female dean in 2006.
“She’s a very highly skilled, gifted and respected individual,” says Hoffman, now an educational consultant in Arizona. “The college was in a growth mode. I knew she’d bring a pursuit of excellence in quality and a calm, caring empathy.”
Cahalan is proud of the care faculty invest in vetting student applicants. “You really can pick out DMU students,” she says. “Our preceptors know our students have a great reputation for rolling up their sleeves.”
She and her husband, Don, are onto Rochester, NY, for his new position with a major human resources company. But her legacy as dean will endure. The 2008 CHS Alumna of the Year, Jodi and Don established the Cahalan Family Endowed Scholarship Fund at DMU in 2012 to honor their families. Their daughters, Erin and Cara, grew up at DMU – literally. When Cahalan was nine months’ pregnant with Cara, she substituted for an ill faculty member for cases in DMU’s Standardized Patient Assessment Lab.
“I actually went into labor doing those SPALs, and our daughter was born later that night,” she says. “So saying that my kids have always been involved in DMU is not an understatement.”