The Pennsylvania Society of Physician Assistants (PSPA) has been one of the more successful professional organizations thanks in no small part to a very dynamic duo who also happen to be husband and wife. For 33 years, Mark and Susan DeSantis have played major roles in favorable changes for Pennsylvania laws and regulations related to a healthy PA practice environment and patient access to care. Highlights of their tenure include completion of full prescriptive authority in both Osteopathic as well as Allopathic medicine, expanding the ratio of PAs supervised by physicians, the option for countersignature elimination, and permanent seats on the Allopathic and Osteopathic Boards. Their work on behalf of PSPA has allowed them to work with, as well as mentor, other great PA leaders in the state. While the DeSantises are the first to acknowledge that their successes result from a great deal of hard work by a lot of wonderful individuals, it can’t be denied that their presence over the decades has been a stabilizing force.
Mark DeSantis’s professional service began on the Board of Directors for the Pennsylvania Society of Physician Assistants (1993-1995). He would then go on to serve as the organization’s President (1995-1997). In 1997, he accepted the position of Chairman of the Governmental Affairs Division for PSPA. He has honorably served in that position ever since, with plans to finally step down in 2025.
In 1993, Susan DeSantis accepted the position of Board Administrator of the Pennsylvania Society of Physician Assistants (PSPA). In 2015, this position would become her professional focus until her potential retirement in 2025. Her main emphasis has been in membership database management, publishing a quarterly newsletter and organization of the PSPA annual conference. Susan’s role with the PSPA has evolved over the years. Her title is now Executive Director. Her work in monitoring PA and health care regulations, as well as reimbursement issues, has made this pair responsible for a great of deal of legislative success seen by PSPA over the years. Susan has noted that they were a well-matched, “synergistic” team with Mark focusing on the big end goals while she focused on the steps to get there.
Their synergy appropriately enough began in a chemistry class at Gannon University where they both matriculated. Susan and Mark were both members of the Pi Alpha Health Sciences National Honor Society and graduated from the Gannon University PA Program with BS degrees – Susan in 1982 and Mark in 1983. Their wedding date was May 12, 1984.
After their wedding in 1984, Susan and Mark moved to Detroit, MI, which had a more progressive work environment for PAs at the time. Susan went to work with Dr. Raymond Weitzman in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology at the Woodland Medical Clinic. Here her responsibilities not only included clinical duties but also administration for patient pharmaceutical research projects. 1985 saw her move to the Department of Medicine at Mt. Carmel Mercy Hospital in Detroit where she joined her husband who was working as a hospitalist for the internal medicine service. Mark began to find his interest in gastrointestinal medicine. He subsequently began work at the Harper-Grace Hospital in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Hematology and Oncology where his clinical role was within the Gastrointestinal and Gynecological Tumor Programs. In 1987, Susan accepted a position within the Division of Cardiology at Harper Hospital. In addition to clinical duties, she was the assistant to the Director of the Coronary Care Unit with responsibility for overseeing billing and correspondence for faculty cardiologists, coordinating activities of residents and fellows, as well as managing telemetry and bed triage. She participated in the development and management of the cardiology product line. With the birth of their first daughter, Nicole, in 1989 the tug to return back home to Pennsylvania to be near family could not be ignored. Their daughter Katie would arrive in 1994.
With their move to Greensburg, PA in 1990, Mark accepted a position with Montefiore University Hospital in Pittsburgh (now UPMC) Department of Medicine’s Division of Medical Oncology where he was the Physician Assistant Supervisor with administrative responsibilities for the PA services and also had clinical and research responsibilities within the gastroenterology, otolaryngology, lung, and genitourinary cancer programs. Five years later he accepted a position with an internal medicine, hematology and medical oncology group in Pittsburgh and managed their inpatient/outpatient patients as well as their clinical research before moving on in 1996. He left in 1996 to join the Primary Health & Wellness Centers as a Division of Irwin Family Care in Greensburg, PA where he was responsible for overseeing the technical development, implementation and management of the electronic health system and supervised the clinical office staff. This coincided with his appointment as a Glaxo-Wellcome Leadership Fellow by the AAPA from 1996-1997. In 2014 he returned to more clinical duties by accepting a position with the Westmoreland Digestive Disorders Group associated with the Allegheny Health Network. His focus has been in evaluating and managing all aspects of GI disorders with particular focus on inflammatory disease.
Susan began work at the Westmoreland Women’s Health Center located in Greensburg in 1990. In 2000, she became the physician assistant and research coordinator for Family Practice Limited in Greensburg. She continued to provide geriatric clinical services there until 2014 when she then became the manager of the infusion center treating patients with gastrointestinal, rheumatologic, and dermatologic diseases at the Westmoreland Digestive Disorder Group in Greensburg.
Through all of this, the DeSantises saw consistent determination to be on the forefront of improving the practice environment for PAs in Pennsylvania. They had experienced the profession’s possibilities while working in Michigan and were determined to help make a difference in their home state. Upon their return to Pennsylvania in 1990, they were welcomed by seasoned veterans of PSPA whom they would later recognize as their mentors: Nate Alston, Dave and Kathy Bissonette, Bill Duyrea, Mike Habeck and Steve Wilson, to name a few. They quickly developed their skills in advocacy and association management and continue to mentor and share this knowledge.
Mark and Susan have received several awards in their illustrious PA careers. Mark received the PSPA Outstanding Leadership Award in 2000. He followed that with the prestigious Nathaniel Alston Professional Leadership and Service Award in 2002 presented by the Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Sciences. In 2007, Susan received the Michael Habeck PSPA Lifetime Service Award – named for a much beloved and dedicated PA in Pennsylvania. In 2022, Mark was also the recipient of the Michael Habeck PSPA Lifetime Service Award.
Susan is currently still working full time for PSPA. Her spare time has been utilized by gardening an extensive heirloom perennial flower garden of her mother’s and grandmother’s favorites. The love of antiques instilled by her parents allowed her to pursue restoring and selling them. Mark is still working in gastroenterology. He also spends time in the garden and swims for relaxation. Both share the love of the time spent with their grandson and look forward to more traveling, concerts, and art events. It will be downtime well earned.
Acknowledgments: This biography was prepared by Steve Wilson with the assistance of Mark and Susan DeSantis. It was submitted to the Society in November 2023. Photographs are courtesy of the DeSantises.