Nicole Bailey Burwell, PhD, MSHS, PA-C, grew up in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area with her older brother and two loving parents. Her mother’s parenting instilled the leadership qualities and commitment to serving others that continue to shape Burwell’s work today.
Her father’s service in the US Army as a Lieutenant Colonel and his work as a commercial airline pilot fostered her love of travel and learning about other cultures.
After graduating from high school, Burwell attended Hampton University – a historically black university located in Hampton, Virginia – graduating Magna Cum Laude in 1991 with her Bachelor of Arts. From there, she worked in cardiology research and co-authored numerous peer-reviewed articles. In 1996, she was named a National Health Service Corps Scholar as she began her PA degree at the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences in Washington, DC. Here, she met many of her long-term mentors and fellow educators including, Lisa Alexander, Susan LeLacheur, Howard Straker, and Jacqueline Barnett. Her favorite class during PA school was “The Role of a PA,” taught by Jim Cawley.
After graduating in 1998, Burwell began her clinical career at Virginia Primary Care Associates. In 2004, she returned to the classroom as an assistant professor in the PA programs at Howard University and George Washington University. At George Washington University she served in the role of associate director of clinical curriculum from 2005-2010. In her final years at George Washington University, she served as the director of clinical curriculum (2010-2013).
Along the way, Burwell continued to practice clinically in primary care. Outside the classroom, she participated on admissions committees, hiring committees, and advisory boards within George Washington University. In 2009, she began many years of service with the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) on various diversity, equity, and inclusion committees.
Burwell furthered her own education at this time alongside her other work, pursuing a PhD in Nutritional Science from Howard University in Washington, DC. This experience further cemented her commitment to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), inspiring her to maintain a connection with these institutions throughout her career. In 2016, she graduated with her PhD and completed her dissertation, “Exploring the Relationships of Dietary Antioxidants and Cardiovascular Diseases in African American, Caucasian, and Hispanic Adults.”
Following her PhD, Burwell started in a new role in 2017 as the director of pre-clerkship education in the Stanford Master of Science in Physician Assistant (MSPA) Program with the appointment of clinical associate professor of medicine at Stanford University. She additionally worked clinically through Stanford’s Division of Primary Care.
At Stanford, Burwell served as faculty advisor to the school’s chapter of the Student Academy of the American Academy of PAs (AAPA), founded and advised the Stanford University MSPA Diversity Affinity Group, and provided individual academic advising to dozens of students. She also developed didactic courses in core medical sciences and professional practice, as well as participating on numerous curriculum, admissions, advisory, and hiring committees. From 2018-2019, she participated in the Stanford LEAD program through the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, earning a certificate in Personal Leadership.
In 2020, Burwell was named Director at Large of the PAEA Board of Directors. In this role, she served on many commissions, workgroups, and committees. In 2021, she chaired the PAEA Doctoral Summit steering committee, exploring the issue of an entry-level doctorate degree for physician assistants. 2021 also saw Burwell named Distinguished Fellow of the AAPA. In 2022, Burwell was voted the 2023 president elect of the PAEA and also began studying for a Master of Business Administration at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.
She departed Stanford in 2023 to pursue an opportunity to serve as the founding program director and department chair of the physician assistant program at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University’s John R. and Kathy R. Harriston College of Health and Human Sciences. For Burwell, serving in this capacity at the nation’s largest HBCU represents the fruition of all she has worked for, unifying her passions for education, excellence, and equity.
Aside from the many facets of her professional life, Burwell is also a proud wife and mother of two young adults. Her son Nicholas is studying computer science at NYU and her daughter Noelle studies Neuroscience at Columbia University in preparation for a career in healthcare.
Acknowledgments: This biography was prepared by Sophi Scarnewman, with the assistance of Nicole Burwell, and was submitted to the Society in March 2023. Photographs are courtesy of Dr. Burwell.