Judith Willis was the first woman elected to serve as President of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), serving on the Board of Directors from 1980 – 1986, as President in 1984-1985. Prior to that time she was active in the Michigan Academy of Physician Assistants, serving on its Board of Directors from 1978-1982 and as Michigan Academy President from 1980-1981.
Having earlier earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Speech Pathology / Audiology from Indiana University, Willis entered physician assistant training at Western Michigan University in 1974, graduating Cum Laude in 1976. Her post-graduate Ph.D. studies at Western Michigan were in the field of Medical Sociology, with a concentration in Health Policy & Economics.
Utilizing this training, Willis began her long career as consultant, entrepreneur and business owner, serving in numerous capacities in local, state and federal government. Her initial involvement was as Director of Research & Regional Medical Education for the Southwestern Michigan Area Health Education Center (SMAHEC) in Kalamazoo from 1979-1986. During the same period she also served as the Assistant to the Dean of Research of the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University in Lansing. In addition to these responsibilities, she also provided clinical services as a physician assistant, part-time.
Her service in Michigan led to her appointment as Director, Office of Research & Demonstrations at the then Health Care Finance Administration (HCFA) in Washington, DC from 1986-1987. In this position, Willis managed health care research, primarily Medicare/Medicaid programs and served as a principal advisor and technical consultant to HCFA and DHHS.
Following this year as part of the Senior Executive Service, Willis was appointed to a new position in the federal government, that of Deputy Director & Special Assistant for Drug Policy on the National Drug Policy Board (NDPB), reporting directly to the Attorney General and Secretary of Health & Human Services. Her responsibilities included supervision and development of the federal-wide drug program effort (enforcement, interdiction, prevention, and treatment) including operations, personnel management, and budget of nearly $4 Billion.
Willis left government service in October of 1988 to assume the newly created position of Director of Research at the AAPA in Alexandria. Recognizing the vital role of research, not only for the success of the profession but also for that of the Academy, Willis was responsible for developing the new Research Division and all research activities on the PA profession and practice including: pharmaceutical research, federal grants and contracts, market research, and publication of results.
Judith Willis, the entrepreneur, was President & CEO/Founder of CIVS, Inc. in Rockville, MD after leaving the Academy in 1994, and until 1998. CIVS Inc. was a national healthcare provider credential verification service, utilizing proprietary electronic databases and was the largest company of its kind in the industry. After developing and marketing an array of product lines, the company was acquired by CareData, Inc. in 1997.
A career as a consultant in business development and strategic planning followed, with efforts centered in Washington, DC and Charlotte, NC from 1999-2004. The primary focus of services was in health care and biotechnology, business plan & P/L development, new product development and venture capital financing.
With an educational background in healthcare and clinical medicine, Willis began a new chapter in her varied career in 2003 as an Adjunct Clinical Professor at Kings College, Charlotte, NC where she provided instruction in Clinical Procedures, Anatomy & Physiology, and Pharmacology.
Throughout Willis’ long and varied career, she never failed to contribute where help was needed, and was continually, and appropriately, recognized for her tireless contributions to the community, the profession and related activities. A partial summary of those is provided, with grateful thanks for Willis’ involvement:
PROFESSIONAL and COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES:
- Member, Health Committee, Health & Human Services – Health Dept. Mecklenburg County, NC 2002-2005
- Member, Metrolina Entrepreneurial Council, Charlotte, NC 2002 – 2004
- Chairman, Advisory Board, FedNet, Inc., 2000 – present
- Trustee – Board of Directors-Research & Education Foundation, American Society of Radiology Tech. 1999-2005
- Director – Drug Policy Research Institute, The RAND Corporation, Santa Monica CA 1990 – 2004
- Task Force, CVO Standards, Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, Chicago, IL 1998
- Task Force, CVO Standards, American Accreditation HealthCare Commission/URAC 1997-1998
- Member – Implementation Task Force, HB1204, Maryland Dept of Health & Mental Hygiene, 1996-1999
- Chair – Montgomery County Health Commission 1992-95, Commissioner 1991 – 1996
- Member – Primary Care Network, Health Resource Services Admin, DHHS 1991-1994
- Director – Corporation Against Drug Abuse (CADA), Washington, DC 1988 – 1996
- Chair – Program Oversight Board Montgomery County Small Business 1991-1996
- Member – Health Insurance Pool Advisory Board, Economic Advisory Council, Montgomery County, 1990-1991.
- Member – Health & Drug Treatment Strategy, Office of Drug Control Policy, DC Government, 1989-1990
- Member – Nat’l. Adv. Com., Rural Hospital Based Health Care Program, R. W. Johnson Foundation, 1987-1990
- Distinguished Fellow, American Academy of Physician Assistants, 2008
- Presidential Award for Leadership, American Academy of Physician Assistants, 1999
- Finalist, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Washington Metropolitan Area, 1997
- Montgomery County Executive Recognition Award, 1995
- Montgomery County Volunteer Recognition Award, 1993
- CADA Regional Award for Volunteer Efforts in Substance Abuse Prevention, 1991
- AAPA 20th Anniversary Leadership Award, 1988
- National Drug Policy Board Recognition Award, 1988
- Drug Enforcement Administrator Certificate of Appreciation, 1988
- HCFA Administrator’s Citation, 1987
- Resolution of Commendation, AAPA Board of Directors, 1986
- The Upjohn Company Presidential Award for Leadership, 1985
Director’s Award for Outstanding Leadership, Western Michigan University, 1984
Judith Willis passed away on October 12, 2022.
Acknowledgments: This biography was prepared by William H. Marquardt, MA, PA-C, DFAAPA Associate Professor & Associate Dean for Physician Assistant Education NOVA Southeastern University. Photographs provided by the PA History Society AAPA Photograph Collection. This biography was updated on October 12, 2022.