SHRS Vice Dean David C. Beck
“I've been a member of the SHRS community for 14 years and I continue to appreciate and love our school more and more. I'm excited for this opportunity to learn more about the school and be a positive contributor in new and different ways. There's no problem too big or too small that I wouldn't be happy to tackle.”
Associate Professor David C. Beck is being welcomed as the new School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) vice dean after a successful record as a leader in the Department of Physician Assistant Studies (PAS) and as associate dean of the Center for Interprofessional Studies (CIP). Beck arrived at Pitt in 2009 as an assistant professor in the PAS program, then over the years became director of its on-campus and hybrid PAS programs and the inaugural chair of the PAS department in 2019.
In addition to launching several new academic programs, Beck has worked to expand SHRS’ continuing education offerings. He forged partnerships with UPMC to help create the Advanced Practice Provider Leadership Certificate Course and developed other educational training courses specifically for UPMC employees, strengthening the relationship with our health care affiliate.
“Vice Dean Beck is the ultimate ‘can do’ team player,” states SHRS Dean Anthony Delitto. “He has done a masterful job leading the Physician Assistant Studies program and has successfully overseen numerous important projects in SHRS. Dave will be a huge asset for SHRS as we move forward in all aspects of our academic mission.”
Small Town Roots
Beck’s compassion for patients and interest in health care was nurtured by his upbringing in Lilly, PA, eighty miles east of Pittsburgh. He notes that his small town upbringing “built my trajectory in life.”
In high school, math and science classes appealed to his tenacity for solving problems. His career path started coming together when he began quizzing his primary care provider who happened to be a physician assistant (PA). In their discussions he discovered the excitement of combining the science of the human body, the structure of health care, and the molecular and mechanical aspects of treatments that would help people improve their health and functioning.
“I really liked discovering that a health care career could combine what I enjoyed learning about in school and the opportunity to use knowledge and skills to help others feel better,” Beck recalls. “Having somebody that I looked up to--and who had taken care of me--be a role model for what I wanted to do for other people, that was a match, so it all started there.”
Nearby Saint Francis University had a highly ranked PA program, which was the perfect location for Beck to attend as an undergraduate and for his master’s in PA Science. “I could stay close to home and support my family, be part of the community that I grew up in, but also be able to pursue my goal of being a PA,” he says.
After graduating from Saint Francis, he worked at local clinics, but also found fulfillment returning to the campus as a guest lecturer, tutoring students and putting together exam review sessions. Other PAs had done the same while he was enrolled and he wanted to give back as well. “I would take students for shadowing and clinical rotations and teach when I could,” Beck remembers. “I enjoyed working clinically, but my favorite part of the day was having a student with me or teaching in the classroom.”
Arriving at Pitt
In 2009, Pitt was in the midst of launching its new PA program and Beck was hired as its first faculty member. The program was originally housed in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology (RST). He says this was an ideal way for the faculty to pursue their own initiatives as a program while having the support from the RST Department.
The PA faculty were committed as a team to serve their students and fellow PAs. “That was a really interesting experience to go through,” Beck says. “It helped me understand all the moving parts of what it takes to run a program well and to make the right improvements--not just keep doing the same things “because that’s what we always do”--but to innovate, to be interested in what could be next or what's really happening outside in the world of PA practice.” He continues, “That drives what we teach instead of insulating ourselves and missing meaningful opportunities for our students. That's something I'm very proud of with the PAS team and that I see across SHRS.”
Helping Communities by Going Hybrid
In 2019, Beck led the initiative for the PAS program to become SHRS’ seventh department. As its first chair, he worked with Dean Delitto to incorporate SHRS’ strategic goals of improving access to high-quality health care training with the use of online and hybrid programming. Beck is a champion of this alternative model of learning and knows the value of reaching students and professionals in outlying areas, something he experienced firsthand growing up in rural Pennsylvania.
The online Doctor of PAS and hybrid Master of Science PAS programs currently enroll students around the country. The flexible formats allow students to stay in and continue to serve their community, keep their family rooted where they live and experience relief from the financial burden of relocating to Pittsburgh. Beck also cites an example of far north central Pennsylvania as why the online or hybrid options are the way forward. In those remote towns nestled between vast forested mountains, a large organization like UPMC might be able to staff professionals for the short term, but the communities require a long-term solution. That investment, Beck notes, can be found in these academic programs.
“Maybe that town never had a physical therapist or has a small, overextended, primary care clinic; now we can train someone from the community and, as a result, expand access to health and rehabilitation care by a provider who is likely to work in that area for years or perhaps their entire career.” He continues, “Through our online and hybrid options, our future colleagues can join or advance themselves in professions where they serve their communities and support their neighbors and family. Our programs offer opportunities for all students, regardless of where they live, to access a world-class health sciences education and improve outcomes for the people around them. I think it’s wonderful and I’m proud to be part of it.”
Vision for the Future
Beck’s 14 years of accomplishments in the PAS Department and in launching the school’s Center for Interprofessional Studies have also been important times of learning, which he anticipates bringing to his new role.
In the PAS program, he and his colleagues were purposeful in finding out the needs of practicing PAs. As vice dean, he sees that approach as something to address across SHRS. He looks at being more intentional with the current needs of health care practices and larger organizations, and ensuring that SHRS is addressing the needs of the graduates of tomorrow.
Another challenge in his role as vice dean will be finding optimal solutions for SHRS’ academic, administrative and research spaces as the school has a footprint across Oakland and beyond. In 2019 as director of the PAS program, he coordinated its move from Pitt’s Applied Research Center, or U-PARC, in Harmar Township to the newly constructed Murdoch Building in Oakland. He acknowledges the complexity of this larger scale move with so many moving parts. “It’s very exciting to be able to pull our team together in a data-driven approach, and bring the strengths and experience that I have to the job to support the great things we do in SHRS under as few roofs as possible.”
Alongside the dean and other SHRS leadership, the vice dean will be an integral architect for the school’s direction for years to come and Beck is ready for the unknown. “We have a strategic plan for our school, but such plans have expiration dates so we always need to think about what's next for us, especially as we help start and advance the careers of our students and our alumni. It’s exciting to be proactive and see the future as an opportunity for the people of SHRS to continue to excel.”
Published April 27, 2023