PA James “Rick” Kilgore Prepares to Attend His 41st Consecutive AAPA Conference

‘There’s so much to see and do. I have never been disappointed.’

May 16, 2023

By Jennifer Walker

At AAPA 2023, PA Kilgore is looking forward to participating in some of the 200+ sessions offered and to cheer on PA students during the AAPA National Medical Challenge Bowl.

As a PA for more than 40 years, James “Rick” Kilgore, DMSc, PhD, PA-C, DFAAPA, clearly remembers being a member of the AAPA House of Delegates (HOD) in the early years of the field. The HOD, which is made up of representatives from AAPA’s constituent organizations and the Student Academy, is responsible for enacting policies, establishing the collective values, philosophies, and principles of the PA profession. As a member of this group, Kilgore participated in many robust and sometimes contentious discussions in the 80s and 90s about topics like reimbursement and state representation. These conversations were instrumental in shaping the profession into what it is today—and the HOD held many of these sessions at AAPA’s annual conference.

“Every year, I’ve gone to the AAPA conference participating as a delegate from Alabama in the House of Delegates, and it’s been a highlight of my career,” says Kilgore, who attended his first conference in 1982. “Everything we did in those first 30 years of the profession was breaking ground.”

Today, Kilgore—whose career has included patient care in nephrology and primary care, as well as clinical research and teaching—prepares to attend his 41st AAPA conference. As the only national PA conference, AAPA 2023, which will take place in Nashville, Tennessee May 20 – 24, will focus on new ways to care for patients, as well as how to advance the profession and grow as a PA.

Kilgore is looking forward to participating in the wide range of programming from educational offerings to social events. But, after the event had to go virtual in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 precautions, he is perhaps most excited to see more PAs in person this year and to feel the energy of being surrounded by his peers.

“AAPA is the only organization that represents us nationally, so I think it’s important to be at the annual conference and to participate,” he says. “And there’s just so much to see and do. I have never been disappointed.”

Breaking Ground in Clinical Research
As a healthcare professional, Kilgore was associated with the University of Alabama (UAB) in Birmingham for 50 years until his retirement from full-time employment in 2018. He first worked in hematology from 1968 to 1979, starting as a high school teenager and continuing through college and after his undergraduate graduation from UAB. During these years, Kilgore was first introduced to clinical research when he was on the team that discovered erythropoietin, a red blood cell stimulator. A few years later, after graduating from the PA program at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1981, Kilgore came back to UAB to practice in nephrology—and he became the first PA to administer erythropoietin to a patient on dialysis.

“That was a real thrill for me,” he says. “It helped me in my career as a clinician, a researcher, and an educator to be able to see the importance of doing research and the benefit of it being applied clinically.”

PA Rick Kilgore (pictured here with PAs Debbie Gerbert, Robin Buskey Hunter, Mary Ettari, and Carla Duyree) has stayed connected with close friends through the AAPA conferences. He was even part of a small group of PAs called Physician Assistants for Culinary Extravagance (PACE), which met at every conference for dinner from 1990 until 2022.

After 10 years in nephrology, Kilgore shifted to primary care at UAB while also focusing more heavily on clinical research through his work with Simon-Williamson Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama. His research here led to the establishment of Clinical Research Consultants, Inc., where he was CEO and president for 15 years.

Kilgore’s clinical research interests focused on the “Big Three” in pharmaceutical development: diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension. He also helped develop several high-profile vaccines. In 2000, when the federal government and the military were concerned that the then-current smallpox vaccine, which was created in the 1950s, was deteriorating, he was a member of the team that tested the next iteration of that vaccine. Kilgore—who is also a pilot and health services officer with the Civil Air Patrol-U.S. Air Force Auxiliary at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama—has also worked on teams that developed vaccines for swine flu and Dengue fever.

Because of his experience with the military and vaccine development, Kilgore was recently tapped for two high-profile volunteer positions in Alabama during the height of COVID-19—fitting roles as he has been a volunteer his entire career, serving both his community and the PA profession.

Advancing the PA Profession Through Volunteerism
During the pandemic, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and the Alabama Department of Public Health asked Kilgore to take on the role of logistics director for the Jefferson County Task Force on COVID-19. For this one-year position, Kilgore was responsible for obtaining PPE like gloves, gowns, and masks for healthcare facilities and other institutions that cared for 1.3 million people across 1,000 square miles in the state.

Rick Kilgore, DMSc, PhD, PA-C, DFAAPA, at a PA Foundation booth during a previous annual conference. His life-long dedication to volunteerism includes roles as president and treasurer with the PA Foundation.

Then, after the COVID vaccine was developed, Kilgore began leading the COVID-19 Task Force for Rural and Medically-Underserved Vaccination. In this role, he focused on administering the COVID vaccine in the most desolate rural areas in Alabama—important work as 55 of the state’s 67 counties are considered rural with two million residents, or 43.6 percent of Alabama’s population, living there. He will likely continue this position for another year.

Kilgore’s long association with volunteerism began in the early 1980s, when he joined the Alabama Academy of PAs, eventually serving as president. A few years later, Kilgore wanted to have an impact on the PA profession at the national level. Over the next three decades, he served terms as president and treasurer of the PA Foundation, as well as a member of the Board of Directors and chair of the PA PAC. On the clinical side, Kilgore currently serves as a volunteer medical director and lead provider for a local clinic providing free healthcare to uninsured residents in Alabama.

“I have had a phenomenal career that has offered me a lot of opportunities in personal growth, business development, patient care, and cutting-edge technology,” he says. “And a way for me to give back for that is to volunteer my time.”

Preparing for His 41st AAPA Annual Conference
At his home in Alabama, Kilgore has a collection of pins that he received at AAPA annual conferences. A mix of colors and metals, shapes and sizes, the 40-plus pins laid out side-by-side are quite impressive and a reminder of the impact these conferences have had on his career and his life.

This year, Kilgore is excited to participate in some of the more than 200 presentations scheduled at AAPA 2023. “PAs can literally get almost all the CME they need for NCCPA certification or state requirements at the conference,” says Kilgore, who holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Healthcare Administration from Bienville University and a Doctorate of Medical Science from the University of Lynchburg. He appreciates that many of these trainings align with current trends in healthcare, particularly in regard to behavioral health.

PA Kilgore has saved every pin from his last 40 AAPA annual conferences.

Kilgore also plans to participate in some of the social events outside of the conference sessions. There will be PA Meet-Ups throughout the two days, including a program that highlights songwriting in Nashville, a hands-on candy making and dessert sampling class, and a tour of Hatch Shop Print, an iconic letterpress printing shop. Kilgore—who has spent decades teaching in PA programs with current faculty or staff appointments at Emory University, Lynchburg University, Mississippi State University, Morehouse School of Medicine, and UAB—will also support the next generation of PAs by attending the AAPA National Medical Challenge Bowl, a medical game show for PA students.

“I tell my students today that it’s up to them now,” says Kilgore, who will attend this year’s conference with his sons, John, a pharmaceutical research manager, and Mark, a patent lawyer for medical technologies. “The students and PAs need to keep participating and coming to the conference, and they need to be involved with the House of Delegates and let their voices be heard. That’s how we will continue to move this profession forward.”

Jennifer Walker is a freelance writer in Baltimore, MD. Contact Jennifer at [email protected].

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