PA school director leaves mark on UF
Dr. Ralph Rice retires after dedicated years of service to UF, students and patients
From serving in the U.S. Navy and working in a UF research lab to teaching students and treating patients, Ralph Rice, PA ’91, DHSc, PAC, has worn many hats throughout his decadeslong career — but the cord that has carried through his many experiences has been an unwavering work ethic and desire to honor the Hippocratic Oath by sharing knowledge with the next generation.
After spending nearly 25 years educating future physician assistants, Rice will retire as associate dean and director of the UF School of Physician Assistant Studies once a new director is appointed.
Under Rice’s leadership, the School of Physician Assistant Studies flourished and strengthened, says Michael L. Good, MD, dean of the UF College of Medicine.
“Dr. Rice has proven to be an exceptional leader for our PA school’s team of dedicated and experienced faculty,” Good says. “He also has been a wonderful advocate for his students as they prepare to serve their patients as an integral part of a multidisciplinary health care team.”
Although his time as a PA has taken him everywhere from Missouri to Alaska, it seems fitting that Rice will end his career where it began.
Armed with a microbiology degree from the University of South Florida, he first forayed into the science field as a lab technician at the UF Health Science Center. In conducting research on everything from cystic fibrosis to liver disease, he discovered a passion for medicine and a desire to help people live longer, more healthy lives.
“Being a PA can be challenging and rewarding, and that’s exactly what I was looking for — I wanted not only the reward but also something where I could use my mind,” he says.
Upon receiving his PA degree from UF in the early 1990s, he stepped into the world of education as a faculty member and also treated patients at UF Health Shands Hospital — first in the emergency room and later in a full-time clinical position in the lung transplant unit. Although Rice left Gainesville in the late 1990s to work with PA programs at Missouri State University and Wake Forest University, the Florida native returned to UF as associate dean and director in 2011, determined to honor the legacy of his predecessor, Wayne Bottom, MPH, PA-C.
During his time at the PA school, Rice implemented a pass/fail curriculum for first-year students and championed the inclusion of a capstone project for second-years, which will take effect next year. He has held quarterly director’s meetings with first-year students to foster open communication, encouraged professional development and mentoring opportunities for faculty and brought faculty and staff into the decision-making process.
“Inclusion is something he strives for,” says Shalon Buchs, MHS, PA-C, associate director of the school.
In looking at the mementos he’s kept over the years — a drawing colored by a young patient in 1993, a plaque gifted to him by students from the class of 1999 and a red kickball signed by the class of 2017 — it is evident that for Rice, the highlight of his career comes down to the people.
“Dr. Rice is very hands-on; he’s the type of person who’s willing to go in the trenches with you and volunteer just because it’s the right thing to do,” says 2017 class president Ashley Giddings, MPAS ’17, who recalls the medical mission trip she and some of her classmates took over spring break last year to the mountains of Virginia. The students brought the idea to Rice for approval, and he not only signed off on the trip but volunteered to go along as a faculty supervisor.
Though he may be retiring, it’s unlikely Rice will ever shake his work ethic. In fact, he plans to get involved with a local pet rescue organization while continuing to practice medicine by volunteering with the Mobile Outreach Clinic Wednesday afternoons.
As he approaches the end of his career, he hopes the history books of the college remember him as someone who “did a good job filling big shoes” left behind by Bottom, who dedicated more than 25 years to guiding UF’s PA program.
“It’s like an asymptote in the sense that you’re always striving to achieve more,” Rice says. “My hope is that the program continues to move forward.”
This story originally ran in the Fall 2017 issue of the Doctor Gator newsletter.