A Career of Service Comes to UMKC

Eric Johnson announced as program director for the Physician Assistant Program

Eric JohnsonEric Johnson, MS, PA-C, has built his medical career with one goal in mind: service. Whether starting his career as an EMT, working in a hospital setting or serving as a program administrator, service to patients has been the constant.

“I really don’t know what a life is like without service,” said Johnson. “It’s what drew me to higher education, where I thought, ‘Wow, I can really impact patients exponentially because all my students are going out to serve as well.’”

Johnson becomes only the second full-time program director for the UMKC Physician Assistant Program since its inception in 2012. Katherine Ervie served as the program’s first director – a role she held until 2020. Lindsay Abernethy served as the interim director until Johnson joined the team in 2021.

“Eric brings vast experience with PA education and accreditation,” said Julie Banderas, assistant dean, Graduate Health Professions, “He returns to Missouri as an established and respected Physician Assistant. We look forward to his leadership and continued success for the PA program.”

For Johnson, his path from EMT to physician assistant occurred while serving as a member of Missouri Task Force One, a FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force. That group’s first deployment was to Ground Zero on September 11, 2001. He was the medical team coordinator for the task force – in addition to being an paramedic and volunteer firefighter – and the gravity of the 9/11 experience led Johnson to some major self-reflection.

“I was standing there at Ground Zero, recounting my life, and thinking I need to be doing more,” said Johnson. “I’ve got to do something else since I’m kind of fried at that point, but I’m also thinking I’m too old for medical school – so what am I going to do?”

He shared his thoughts with a surgeon he worked with while deployed in New York City. After reassuring Johnson that he wasn’t “too old for medical school,” the surgeon suggested a path that Johnson hadn’t yet considered. “Let me tell you about how important Physician Assistants are to my practice,” he said.

Soon, Johnson was off and running toward the next phase of his career. “Patience isn’t really my strength,” he said. “So as soon as I got back home, I met with an advisor and said I wanted my PA degree, like, yesterday.”

After graduating from Missouri State University with his MS in physician assistant studies, Johnson landed a PA position in the ICU at University Hospital in Columbia, Missouri. He was the first PA for that department and worked closely with administrators to fully develop the position. While there, the ICU administrators also tapped him to help develop “an acute care fellowship for Physician Assistants.”

Johnson’s next position was at Stephens College in central Missouri, where he became the founding program director for the college’s new PA program. For Johnson, building a program from the ground up was a welcome challenge. “I’m always looking for the next project,” he said.

Following his time at Stephens College, he took a position near Chicago at Dominican University. There, he served as program director and chair for the Physician Assistant Studies Program. And while he loved his time in Chicago, he found himself longing for his native Missouri.

So, when Johnson got a text from a former colleague about the opening at UMKC, he jumped at the opportunity. He has checked off several boxes throughout his career, but he had yet to work at a public university, he said, or a PA program embedded in a medical school.

“I am really excited to learn about the interaction with the PA program and the medical school, and fostering a strong relationship with the two,” he said. “I see it as so mutually beneficial.”