Remembering Charles Hilmon Castle, Feb. 15, 1928 - Dec. 26, 2016
Feb 1, 2017 11:00 AM
Hilmon Castle, 1970
On December 26, 2016, our community lost a person I deeply admire, Charles Hilmon Castle, M.D. Hilmon was a pioneer in the early days of the University of Utah School of Medicine who helped shape the Physician Assistant profession as we know it today — a legacy that we will continue to build on as we work to reshape the future of health care.
For those of us who had a chance to get to know Hilmon, we remember him for his perseverance and hard work. In 2014, I had the opportunity to work closely with Hilmon in increasing the size of the medical school class, a vital charge for our community that he took on with both tenacity and passion.
He came by these characteristics honestly. At age 8, Hilmon contracted polio, which affected his ability to walk for the rest of his life. Yet, he didn’t let his disability hold him back. Hilmon worked hard as a youth, playing football and basketball in high school before boxing at the University of Mississippi.
Motivated by an innate desire to serve and help others, Hilmon earned his medical degree at Duke University in 1951, and with some encouragement from his mentor Dr. Eugene Stead, came to the U for his residency and fellowship in cardiology. After discovering the uniquely collaborative and innovative culture at the U, Hilmon decided to spend the rest of his life and career here.
In 1959, he led a new division of continuing medical education for practicing physicians at the School of Medicine and throughout the Mountain West. This program prepared the U to become one of the first four medical centers in the nation to obtain grants from the National Institutes of Health in 1966, to establish a Regional Medical Program. The Intermountain Regional Medical Program (IRMP) successfully moved medical advances out of research laboratories and large medical centers and made them readily available to all the people in the region.
In 1970, Hilmon became the first chair of the new Department of Community and Family Medicine, now the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine (DFPM), which was created to address the urgent need for primary medical services in rural communities throughout Utah and surrounding states. Hilmon thrived on providing service to his community, particularly the underserved. Under his watch for 14 years as chair, this became a founding principle for DFPM and what would become the School of Medicine’s first Physician’s Assistant (PA) program.
Hilmon Castle (front row, fourth from the left) with faculty and staff of
the Department of Family and Community Medicine, early 1970s.
He was the perfect man to build such a program. Undeterred by the lack of money for building a PA program, Hilmon left town looking for grants and funds. After visiting with several established PA programs at other schools, and securing the necessary funds, the program accepted 12 highly qualified applicants, and the first 15-month program began in 1971. Within five years, the fledgling program became the standard model used by federally funded PA programs nationwide. To this day, the PA program Hilmon built at the U remains one of the top programs in the nation, consistently ranked among the top five PA schools, according to U.S. News & World Report. Following in his footsteps, the program continues to be very mission-based with a focus on increasing access to health care in medically underserved communities in both rural and urban areas.
In his 2008 autobiography, “From Top of the Stairs: One Doctor’s Story,” Hilmon talks about the fascinating beginnings of the University of Utah medical school and the many educational innovations to which he contributed. Today, the DFPM — comprised of family medicine, physician assistant studies, public health, and occupational and environmental health — continues to play a key part in our institution’s ability to provide better care. One such initiative is Utah’s Area Health Education Center (AHEC), which helps current and future health professionals acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to practice in a transformed health system for medically underserved rural and urban communities. With a central program office in the DFPM and three satellite centers at Weber State University, Salt Lake Community College and Southern Utah University, we are ensuring students are able to return to their rural communities as providers. Programs like these have Hilmon’s legacy to thank.
Perpetuating Hilmon’s vision, the U is expanding access to rural portions of the state is developing a rural pipeline to our program through an exciting new partnership with Dixie State University beginning in 2018. Little did he know that he would be a catalyst for what is now one of the fastest-growing medical professions nationwide, making the PA degree one of the best master’s degrees for jobs in recent years.
Hilmon remained committed to the U. Even after returning to private practice in cardiology, he remained very involved as an honorary School of Medicine alumnus and donor. He generously set up a scholarship endowment for promising PA students.
As we honor his memory, we will continue to remain committed to his legacy.comments powered by Disqus