Wilbur “Billy” Oaks, MD, (1929-2015) was the co-founder of the Hahnemann University (now Drexel University) Physician Assistant (PA) Program in 1971. From the Program’s inception under the leadership of Dr. Bill Oaks and co-founder, Dr. David Major, the Program’s mission has been to: educate qualified primary care physician assistants, promote the physician assistant profession and improve health care delivery in rural and urban medically underserved areas. The Hahnemann Physician Assistant Program was the first PA Program in Pennsylvania and the first of seven PA Programs approved in the United States. At the 25th anniversary celebration of the Hahnemann University PA Program, Dr. Oaks stated: “The most impressive aspect of the program is the body of students who bring enthusiasm and high expectations to Hahnemann. I firmly believe the PA students are better prepared to enter medicine with all its ramifications that even our own medical students. They are dedicated to the profession, willing to fill their role, and tireless workers —- what a great combination!”
As a doctor, an alumnus of Lafayette College, and a husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, he approached every aspect of his life with enthusiasm, optimism, generosity, and humility. He made time for everyone. Growing up in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, Dr. Oaks, known as “Billy” or “Oaksie,” loved playing sports. After graduating from Lower Merion High School, he enrolled in Lafayette College, where he served as captain of the soccer team and graduated with the Class of 1951. “He would later attribute his success as a physician to lessons in perseverance, accountability, and team-based leadership that he learned on the athletic field,” his family said in a remembrance. Dr. Oaks received his medical degree from Hahnemann Medical College in 1955.
After serving as Captain in the Army, he went on to complete his residency and internship at Hahnemann and then joined its faculty, where he later became the chairman of the department of internal medicine. He also served on the board of trustees for both Hahnemann and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Energetic and approachable, he excelled as a diagnostician not only because he was knowledgeable, but also because he listened to every patient’s story with equal care and attention. His gentle bedside manner and healing touch typified his signature medical style affecting patients. The other component of his style was the way in which he taught his students and residents to take the stairs rather than the elevator when making rounds; staying healthy, he maintained, was part of being a doctor. Dr. Oaks was both a clinician and teacher. During his medical career, he received the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation Award, the William Likoff Clinical Excellence Award, the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Clinical Teaching, the Hahnemann University Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Service, and the Herbert S. Waxman Voluntary Faculty Teaching Award.
As a volunteer for St. John’s Hospice, Dr. Oaks provided mobile medical care to members of Philadelphia’s homeless community. In recognition of his service, Dr. Oaks received the Thousand Points of Light award from President George H.W. Bush. Dr. Oaks also started the St. John’s Hospice Homeless Soccer program, and he routinely took part in practices and games. He doted on his family. “He adored his wife, he motivated his children and grandchildren with enthusiasm and positivity, he celebrated the accomplishments of others, and he made the effort to take part in the social worlds of every member of his family,” his family said.
Acknowledgments: This biography was adapted from an obituary provided by Dr. Oaks’ family. It was drafted by Patrick Auth, PhD, MS, PA-C, and submitted to the Society in July 2015. The photograph is courtesy of Dr. Oaks’ family.