Nathaniel “Bird” Alston was born in Warrington, North Carolina, the son of the late John and Cora Lee Alston. His parents moved from North Carolina to Coatesville, Pennsylvania, where Alston received his primary and secondary education.
After graduation from S. Horace Scott High School, Alston enlisted in the U.S. Army where he trained as a paratrooper. Alston served with the US Army in both Korea and Vietnam. He frequently told a story of jumping out of a C-130 aircraft with a 35 mm machinegun strapped to his chest. A young 2nd Lieutenant improperly jumped out the opposite side with a camera and was blown under the aircraft causing their parachutes to tangle. The excess weight of the machine gun and the 2nd Lieutenant caused a hard landing resulting in Alston breaking his ankle. He said the care he received from the medics helped sway his career path to medicine.
As he transitioned to civilian life after being honorably discharged from the Army, Alston resumed his educational pursuits by entering Hahnemann University Medical School and College of Allied Health Sciences (now Drexel University). He received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Health Sciences and an Associate of Science degree as a physician assistant in 1974.
Alston began his PA career working as part of the Hahnemann Medical Associates with Drs. Wilber Oakes and David Majors, the founder and medical director of the program respectively, in the Feinstein Building next to the hospital. Simultaneously, he became a faculty member and clinical coordinator of the PA program. He survived multiple transitions of the University, from MCP Hahnemann, Allegheny University, Tenant Health Systems and ultimately Drexel University. While each transition brought multiple institutional changes, Alston remained a constant. He retired from the Hahnemann PA Program at Drexel University after 30 years of distinguished practice and teaching.
During his time at Hahnemann, Alston was very involved in the recruitment of quality minority students for the program. He would frequently meet with and counsel students on how to prepare for admission to the program, and what to expect if they were accepted.
Alston was also a major player in gaining legislation for PA practice in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He spent many days in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania lobbying for PA practice. Alston’s efforts resulted in changes to the Pennsylvania Medical Practice Act in 1982, which allowed PAs to legally practice in the Commonwealth. Ultimately, he was appointed to the Pennsylvania Medical Board as a full voting member by the Governor of Pennsylvania. The position is now a permanent part of the Board. He also spent a great deal of time at Geisinger Medical Center, working on a grant to include PAs in emergency preparedness throughout the Commonwealth.
His retirement marked the end of a unique era at the Hahnemann PA Program at Drexel University.
Away from the clinical and academic settings, Alston proved himself to be a talented singer and musician. He played bass guitar with the group “Teddy Rich and the Richmen” and lent his voice to “Little Tommy & the Elgins”. While he enjoyed playing football, Nate was an outstanding basketball player. He frequently arranged student/faculty competitions and was rarely on a losing team.
During his career Alston received many well-deserved honors and recognitions. These honors include: The Department of Medicine – Chairman’s Award for Clinical and Academic Excellence (1974), Woman’s League for Minority Education-Professional Achievement Award (1993), Hahnemann University Distinguished Faculty Award (1994), Allegheny University of the Health Sciences – Alumnus of the Year (1996), Pennsylvania Society of Physician Assistants (PSPA) – Lifetime Achievement Award (1996), American Academy of Physician Assistants- Physician Assistant of the Year Paragon Award Winner (1997), The Nate Alston Student Achievement Scholarship was established by the PSPA (1997), Governor’s Appointee to the Commonwealth Medical Board (1997), and his induction into Pi Alpha, The National PA Honor Society (2005).
After retiring from full time clinical practice and academia, Alston gave his time and efforts to a number of community organizations. He spent his time between PA and FL with Eve, his life partner, also a Hahnemann graduate.
Alston passed away, peacefully on June 29, 2022, at the age of 83 years. He blazed a trail for numerous PAs to follow and his passing was felt by countless PAs, especially from Hahnemann, whom he touched during his long and distinguished career.
Acknowledgments: This biography was prepared by Richard Vause, with the assistance of his obituary and conversation with his life partner, Eve Jones. This biography was submitted to the Society in October 2022.