Debra S. Munsell, DHSc, DFAAPA, PA-C, has a passion for education and rural health care. She accepted the position as inaugural director of the Mississippi State – Meridian PA program – the first public higher learning institute in the state to offer a PA program degree – because she felt this would be a way to impact the accessibility of healthcare in rural areas. She currently holds the position of Associate Professor in this developing program. Munsell has served on many PA national and state committees. She is currently a Trustee on the Physician Assistant History Society’s Board.
Munsell was born in Port Arthur, Texas and raised in the small rural town of Bridge City, Texas, approximately 30 miles from the Texas-Louisiana border. A high school senior biology class fieldtrip to the University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston (UTMB) introduced her to the variety of healthcare providers that were trained there. UTMB was the first medical school in Texas, opening in 1891. The tour of the medical facility sparked an interest and passion for medicine that continues today. The most memorable part of the tour was a visit to the department where prosthetics were developed. There on the wall was a progression of plaster masks, made for a classmate Munsell’s class knew well. These wonderful individuals at the hospital had documented the progress of Munsell’s friend as they overcame significant craniofacial challenges. It was evident that miracles were happening at UTMB, and this experience was instrumental in her selection of a career.
Munsell graduated with a BS in Biology/Sociology in 1979 from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, TX. In 1981, she attained her Health Care Sciences degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston School of Allied Health Sciences. She received her Master’s degree in PA Studies – Otolaryngology from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE in 2000 and her Doctorate in Health Care Science in 2009 from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
Munsell began her medical career in Angleton, Texas providing care in a rural Family Medicine Clinic. After several years in this position, she transitioned to correctional medicine care within the Texas Department of Corrections. In 1985, she returned to her alma mater as a PA in the UTMB Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Munsell spent 5 years providing healthcare to women in rural areas of east Texas. In 1990, Munsell joined the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC) Department of Head and Neck Surgical Oncology. While practicing there, Munsell developed a deep passion for treating head and neck cancer patients as well as providing education on cancer identification and prevention.
During her tenure at MDACC, Munsell began to host clinical PA students and participate as a clinical preceptor for the PA program at UTMB (1996-2011), as well as the PA programs at the Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, 1998-2005), the Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona California (1999-2005) and the Midwestern University College of Health Sciences in Chicago (2002-2004). While at MDACC, she worked with colleagues to develop a robust clinical preceptor program for PAs and was a member of the team who developed the MDACC PA Residency Program in Oncology.
In 2005, Munsell transitioned to full-time faculty in the Department of Physician Assistant Studies at UTMB. She also maintained a clinical practice in the UTMB Department of Otolaryngology. In 2011, Munsell accepted the position of inaugural program director at the Master of PA studies at the Louisiana State University- Health Science Center- New Orleans. In 2018, she accepted the position of Inaugural program director of the PA program at Mississippi State University and held this position until 2021. She currently holds the position of Associate Professor in the program.
Munsell has recently been named an Oral Health Champion for Mississippi, which is a program sponsored by The Center for Integration of Primary Care and Oral Health (CIPCOH). CIPCOH is a joint endeavor of Harvard University Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine (HMS/HSDM), the HMS Center for Primary Care (CPC), and the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health (UMMFMCH), in partnership with MCPHS University. This role combines Munsell’s passion for education and oral cavity medicine.
Munsell enjoys genealogy research and locating the resting places of distant ancestors. One of her favorite experiences is her annual participation as a member of a New Orleans Mardi Gras Krewe. She and her husband Bill enjoy sailing. They share their home with six rescue cats.
Acknowledgments: This biography was prepared by PA History Society Staff with the assistance of Deb Munsell. It was submitted to the Society in January 2023. Photographs are courtesy of Dr. Munsell.