The University of Lynchburg’s Master of PA Medicine program has a new medical director, effective Jan. 1. Following the retirement of Dr. Dan Johnson, who has served as the program’s medical director since 2012, local cardiologist Dr. David Truitte has taken the reins.
Johnson said he “could not be more excited” about Truitte’s appointment and was quick to praise him. “Dr. Truitte has served the greater Lynchburg community as a respected noninterventional cardiologist for 30-plus years,” he said. “His many patients dearly love him and frequently speak of his caring office and bedside manner.
“His reputation as an outstanding physician has earned him the respect of our community colleagues, including physicians, PAs, NPs, and nurses. He will continue to strengthen our partnership with the Free Clinic of Central Virginia, where he volunteers and provides care to many of our medically underserved patients.
“Under his leadership as medical director, not only will he bring his expertise in cardiology, especially in the areas of hypertension, advanced cardiac imaging, heart disease prevention, and wellness. He will also bring a renewed level of enthusiasm and energy to the program.
“His positive relationship with Centra Health and other medical establishments will open new doors regarding clinical and preceptor training for our students. He is certainly no stranger to the PA profession and is known as a PA provider advocate.
“I can assure you that he will be a great supporter of our PA faculty, staff, and especially our students. The program is fortunate to have him as its next medical director.”
Truitte, a cardiologist at Centra Heart and Vascular Institute in Lynchburg, earned his medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1986. He did his residency at Philadelphia’s Temple University, where he was chief resident from 1989-90, and completed a cardiology fellowship at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire.
Johnson, along with faculty members Dr. Jeremy Welsh and Dr. Ed Polloway, was instrumental in developing Lynchburg’s PA Medicine program.
In 2012, he was a busy emergency department physician, overseeing physician assistants and nurse practitioners at Centra’s Lynchburg General Hospital. A former PA himself, he had recently participated in a study to determine whether starting a PA medicine program at then-Lynchburg College was feasible.
After the group decided it was a viable goal, Polloway, dean of graduate studies at the time, invited Johnson to be the new program’s medical director. It wasn’t an easy sell at first. “I had no thoughts of becoming the medical director; I was a busy emergency department doc,” Johnson said. “After talking with Ed, and him kind of twisting my arm a little bit, I said I’d do it as an interim.”
Over the next three years, PA medicine faculty, Welsh among them, were hired. Together, Johnson and Welsh scoured Central Virginia, securing sites where Lynchburg’s PA Medicine students could do their clinical rotations.
“It’s absolutely essential to having a PA program,” Johnson said. “[We had] meeting after meeting after meeting with regional medical centers and anyone associated with medicine, such as the major medical practices around Lynchburg and Farmville and Bedford and places like that. …
“We had to make sure we had committed practices that could support our students on clinical rotations. Without that, we couldn’t have been granted a provisional approval by the national accreditation agency for the world of PA medicine.”
All the while, Johnson kept working in Lynchburg General’s emergency department. Medical director was a part-time job and at the ED he also could help facilitate clinical rotations for PA medicine students.
“It’s just been very rewarding to have helped build one of the best PA programs around,” Johnson said. “It’s been a real pleasure to work with such competent people to build this PA program and to watch it grow.
“With the addition of our new medical director, it’s just going to continue to get better and better.”
Starting with the program’s first cohort in 2015, Johnson directed Community Clinic, a PA Medicine course that introduces students to the Free Clinic of Central Virginia. In addition to helping treat patients at the free clinic, students learn from others in the community — fire and police officers, child protective services workers, mental health professionals, etc.
“The most rewarding part of my time at the University of Lynchburg’s PA Medicine program was being involved with teaching our students and watching them graduate to become competent, caring PA providers,” Johnson said.
“That’s the most rewarding part. We graduated many wonderful PAs that are working here in Lynchburg, throughout Virginia, and throughout the United States. It’s really special to see the students we’ve trained practicing and precepting PA students.”
As one might expect, over time Johnson realized he wanted to be more than an “interim” director.
“I … really liked the job of medical director,” he said. “I had a great team and we had great, unconditional support from then-President Garren and Ed Polloway and Julius Sigler, so I elected to go ahead and take on the position on a permanent basis.
“I knew we had something very, very special, and if we had the right people we could take this program to a higher place and create an exceptional PA program.”
Johnson will continue volunteering at the free clinic and teaching in the PA Medicine program, although Dr. Jenna Rolfs ’20 DMSc, associate dean of the College of Medical Science, will take over the Community Clinic course.
“[Dr. Johnson’s] dedication helped create a program that will last far into the future and touch countless students’ and patients’ lives,” Welsh, dean of the College of Medical Science, said. “His work at Lynchburg is of the highest caliber, and we will always appreciate his influence and lasting impact.”