David Keahey, PA-C, MSPH, has been a clinician caring for the underserved and a PA educator at the University of Utah’s PA program (UPAP) for more than 40 years. He has earned numerous awards and recognitions for his professional and volunteer work. He is the 2nd PA to have ever received a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health Policy Fellowship, the most respected health policy fellowship in the country. The experience laid the way for Keahey to undertake the role of Chief Policy and Research Officer at the PA Education Association (PAEA). After 5 years with PAEA leading a superb team of policy experts and researchers, he retired in 2021.
He was born and raised in rural southwest Idaho and began working on farms at age 11. Keahey’s initial path would lead to the study of history with the intention to become a history professor. However, during his 3rd semester at Boise State University, Keahey decided to volunteer for the US Army in West Germany where he would serve 3 years as a decorated Dustoff flight medic during the Cold War. It was during a late-night mission flying a critically ill patient that he met and worked with his first PA. Following his discharge, he attended the University of Utah MEDEX Project where in 1983 he received his PA Certificate and Bachelor’s Degree in Primary Care Medicine. Keahey finished his Master of Science in Public Health in 1989 while practicing full time in community health centers. None of this would have been possible without the GI Bill from his Army service. Keahey is a lifetime fellow member of the AAPA’s Veterans Caucus.
Keahey has spent the majority of his PA career caring for neglected and underserved communities. His clinical practice has consisted of medical outreach clinics, community health centers, and volunteer free clinics. He was a founding member of the Utah Health Care for the Homeless Task Force and served on the Utah Governor’s task force for the Appropriate Treatment of the Homeless Mentally Ill. From 1990 to 1995, he served as associate medical director and medical director of the community health centers in Salt Lake City, UT caring for 20,000 diverse, low-income patients. The course of Keahey’s career was heavily influenced by the mission of the Utah MEDEX Project.
He has been an active member of the Utah Academy of PAs and was the organization’s Legislative Chair from 2003 until 2013. His accomplishments as Chair include successfully advocating for the passage of SB 146: Physician Assistants and Public Health Rules in 2006 and SB 139: Physician Assistants Amendments in 2010.
In 2007, Keahey accepted a full-time faculty position at his alma mater, the University of Utah PA Program (MEDEX). While faculty at Utah, he has held the titles of Associate Director, Director of Clinical Associates, and Associate Director of Graduate Studies. For decades he taught history taking and physical diagnosis, clinical problem solving, evidence-based medicine, clinical practica, and led the Tutorial Groups Team. In 2016, he transitioned to a part-time faculty position as an adjunct associate professor of the PA program.
Keahey has extensive editorial and writing experience with 18 peer reviewed publications and 13 reports, editorials, and other articles. With his UPAP work partner, Constance Goldgar, MS, PA-C, he was the feature co-editor for the Journal of PA Education’s Evidence Based Medicine Column (2005-2014) and the editor in chief for the Utah Academy of PAs’ newsletter (2008-2011). He still remains a reviewer for both the Journal of PA Education and the Journal of the American Academy of PAs (AAPA).
From 2015 to 2016 he was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellow in Washington DC. During the year-long fully funded Fellowship, he worked with Senator Chris Murphy (CT) to advance his legislative agenda and learn about the federal health policy legislative process. Keahey was “in the room where it happens” on several memorable occasions.
Following his fellowship, he accepted a position as the Chief Policy and Research Officer at the PA Education Association (PAEA), a natural progression from the RWJF Fellowship. While with PAEA, he and his teams positively impacted a number of federal regulations and legislation that affect PAs and PA education. National research reports were expanded and improved while the new PAEA Research Fellowship was devised, operationalized, and implemented. Relationships with national health partners, particularly in the fields of mental health and substance use disorders (SUD) were established along with grant sub-awards. The first Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant awarded to PAEA achieved its goals to improve SUD curriculums in PA programs and establish PAs as critical partners. These efforts by PAEA’s policy team have improved care and prevented suffering and death of SUD patients while expanding PA student training opportunities.
Keahey has received numerous awards and recognitions in his career such as: the Army Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, EFMB, and Aircraft Crewmember Badge (1977-80); UPAP Outstanding PA Teacher (1990); AAPA’s Inner City PA Paragon Award (2004); Utah Academy of PA’s Special Service Award (2006), UPAP Friday Clinic Preceptor of the Year (2007); President’s Award (2008), and the Don Pedersen Leadership Award (2018); the Maliheh Free Clinic Compassion and Service Award (2013); and the University of Utah PA Program’s Director’s Award (1998) and Excellence in Primary Care Advocacy Award (2015). He has also established the David J. Keahey, PA-C, BUS, MSPH, Endowed Scholarship in PA Studies at the University of Utah.
Acknowledgments: This biography was prepared by PA History Society Staff with the assistance of David Keahey. It was submitted to the Society in November 2023. Photographs are courtesy of Mr. Keahey.