Seeding careers in science
Graduate School Alumnus of the Year brings diversity to health care fields
Lawrence G. Pan, PT, PhD ’83, enjoys his role as teacher and mentor to physical therapy students at Marquette University.
For a university department chairman, Lawrence G. Pan, PT, PhD ’83, has had a remarkable influence on middle and high school students in the Milwaukee community. Through efforts that he set in motion at Marquette University and affiliation with community partners, disadvantaged youth have experienced improved lifestyles, health and career options. These are among the reasons he was selected as the 2013 Medical College of Wisconsin/Marquette Medical Graduate School Alumnus of the Year.
Dr. Pan is Professor and Chair of Physical Therapy at Marquette University. In addition to a background in direct patient care, research and higher education, he directs two federally funded diversity programs that have helped many young people steer toward better futures. The beginnings were humble, but the need in the community stimulated the ideas’ growth.
“I noticed here at Marquette that we were in an urban setting but had no minority students in my classes,” said Dr. Pan, referencing the late 1980s. “I had interest in diversity as an Asian American but also having grown up during civil rights movements. I thought it would be interesting to create a mentorship program and get minority students interested in physical therapy.”
A pilot program led to state funding and eventually earned a federal Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP) grant in 1992. The program has earned more than $9 million in funding since it began.
“Diversity takes a commitment and having committed people willing to invest the time in it. It’s one thing to be supportive of diversity and another thing to do it. Because you’re dealing with disadvantaged students, they might need extra assistance. You might need a grant. It’s about money to some extent because having institutional support is key for diversity programs. As the cost of higher education goes up, and outpaces inflation, it makes diversity more challenging.”
The goal of HCOP is to recruit and retain disadvantaged students in the health professions. For middle and high school students, this means exposure to science careers through summer enrichment programs. For participants who choose to pursue such careers at Marquette, the program continues with academic support and counseling. HCOP at Marquette has graduated 730 students from disadvantaged backgrounds into health professions, improving diversity in those fields.
Dr. Pan’s reputation for helping young Milwaukeeans find a path to success led to a collaboration proposed by the United Community Center (UCC) in Milwaukee. Marquette and the UCC successfully competed for a Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) grant funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The program Dr. Pan has led with his Marquette colleague, Dr. Paula Papanek, is called YES (Youth Empowered to Succeed) and is designed to promote healthy lifestyles among Hispanic adolescents.
YES pairs at-risk youths with Marquette University students serving as role models who offer tutoring, engage in physical fitness activities, and explain wellness and nutrition information.
“It’s just been a wonderful experience,” Dr. Pan said. “These are programs that really have an impact on people. After a semester, you can see the positive effects on kids.”
Following a site visit of YES in 2010, and a special project for HHS in 2011 that met all of its goals using only 60 percent of its budget, HHS asked Dr. Pan to take a lead role in analyzing the data nationally across all YEP initiatives (currently six).
“We’ve now established a model of a grantee helping the government with data assessment because of our expertise,” he said. “I don’t think they see this data often in this cohesive way that shows the personal stories and effect of these collaborative programs.”
For Dr. Pan, an emphasis on people comes naturally, particularly since the first 22 years of his career was dedicated to patient care as a staff physical therapist at Columbia Hospital in Milwaukee, where he specialized in joint mobilization and arthritis rehabilitation.
“Physical therapy is a great career, a people-first profession,” said Dr. Pan, a Fellow of the American Physical Therapy Association. “The profession attracts people who are good communicators, altruistic and sensitive to the needs of others, and those are all good things.”
Eventually, he developed an interest in physical therapy-related research and recognized that academics suited his skill set and aspirations. He entered the PhD program in physiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin where Hubert V. Forster, PhD, currently Professor of Physiology, served as his mentor. They had a mutual interest in exercise, and Dr. Pan focused his research on the neural control of breathing.
He carried that basic science interest to Marquette, where he joined the full-time faculty in 1986. He was named Chair of Physical Therapy in 1996 and continues to support and guide PT research among his students.
Through his research, Dr. Pan was an early proponent of collaboration between MCW and Marquette. These many years later, he was extremely pleased when the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) of Southeast Wisconsin, a partnership of eight Milwaukee academic and health care organizations, received designation as part of a national consortium of top medical research institutions dedicated to accelerating medical advances. One of the fruits borne from that federal award was a Master of Science and PhD degree program in Clinical and Translational Rehabilitation Health Science in Marquette’s Department of Physical Therapy.
“It has come full circle, as our graduate program is here in Cramer Hall where the former Marquette medical school and early MCW used to be,” said Dr. Pan, who also noted that about five faculty members in his department have received collaborative CTSI research grants. “It has been a lot of fun to see how that has come to pass.”
A zest for teaching has made Dr. Pan’s role in academia particularly rewarding.
“Being on a college campus keeps you young,” he said. “We have high performing students in the classroom. To help mentor and advise them in their career path, research programs and service projects is great. It fits me and most people here at Marquette.”
On the campus of his alma mater, Dr. Pan has also worked to improve the student experience and admissions process. While serving on the Alumni Association Board from 2003-08, he helped review the profile of the MCW student body along gender and diversity lines to aid in recruitment and admissions. As the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences representative on the Board, he also supported the Graduate Student Association and its leadership.
He appreciates being recognized by his peers, even if he feels there are many worthy scientists who have graduated from the Medical College. “It’s a great honor, given my longstanding history with MCW, dating back to 1979.”
Dr. Pan receives his award
Dr. Pan speaks to the Medical College of Wisconsin Graduate Student Association on March 6.
Lawrence G. Pan, PT, PhD ’83, received the 2013 Graduate School Alumnus of the Year award at the Graduate Student Association’s all-student meeting March 6.
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