HSC's Sandra Mann retires from Physician Assistant Studies department after 27 years

Friday, May 31, 2024

HSC's Sandra Mann retirement party (Photo 1)Since its inception, every student who has entered The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth’s Physician Assistant Studies program has been greeted by Sandra Mann.

Mann, one of the PA program’s first employees, officially retired, ending a 27-year throughline that connected the program’s past with its current students. Mann has enjoyed a front-row seat to the department’s transition from an upstart into one of the best, most highly regarded programs in the country.

Though her title is administrative coordinator, she has taken on multiple roles during her tenure in the PAS department, including calling the program’s first students to tell them they’d been accepted.

“I became kind of like the mama,” Mann said. “They always called me ‘Mama Mann.’ I became their advocates and their cheerleader.”

Mann became known for her easy-going charm, relentless work ethic and well-earned wisdom. For her, seeing the students she welcomed to campus transform into successful health care providers and ambassadors for the program has taken on added meaning.

“It makes me a proud mom to see them succeed,” she said through tears during a recent interview. “I see them come in, see them go out. It just brings out the emotions — you did your job, and you did it well.”

“You want them to succeed so badly,” she continued. “You want them to be able to have all the knowledge thrown at them and know that they actually took that to heart and build their successes from then on.”

HSC's Sandra Mann retirement party (Photo 2)Mann, a native of East Alton, Illinois, learned her work ethic from a childhood spent digging up potatoes and picking peapods on her grandparents 363-acre farm in nearby Brighton. After high school, she met her husband, Allan, in her uncle’s garage. She knew the moment she saw him he was the man she was meant to spend her life with, thanks to his “blonde hair and cowboy look.” More than 43 years later, her hunch has been proven correct.

The couple moved to Texas for work after their first son, Dustin, was born. The couple would go to have a daughter, Amanda.

After being laid off from a payment processing center in Arlington, Mann saw an ad for an open administrative position at HSC. She interviewed with the department’s founding chair, PA Hank Lemke, who offered her the job about 30 minutes after the interview was over. She was hired on a three-year grant, and Lemke repeatedly told her that she likely wouldn’t have a job in three years. Her start date was Nov. 3, 1997, and she made it to May 31, 2024.

“Sandy was already a legend when I started as a PA student in 2006,” said PA Matthew Boutte, assistant professor for HSC’s PAS and an alumnus of the program. “At the time, she worked hand in hand with the clinical coordinator. She was always straightforward with us as students but with that hint of pleasant sarcasm I came to love. I always loved seeing her when I would come back and visit as an alum in subsequent years.”

“Getting to work with her in her last year was both a lot of fun and a real honor,” he continued. “She has not changed one bit — she’s always been that hardworking, pleasantly sarcastic stalwart of the department. I’ll miss her tremendously.”

HSC's Sandra Mann retirement party (Photo 3)Mann conceded she didn’t know what a PA was when she applied for the job. Lemke handed her a program brochure and asked her to memorize it. She did. He also instructed her to “get lost” on campus and find her way back. She did. Now, she said, she can maneuver HSC’s campus blindfolded.

The first PAS cohort in 1997 was composed of 11 students. Back then, Mann put together application binders stuffed with endless stacks of paper. She copied by hand, correlated documents and mailed out each of them through FedEx.

Nearly 30 years later, Mann has helped usher nearly 1,200 students into the profession.

“I’ve known Sandy for 15 years,” said PA Tamara Wilmoth, assistant professor for HSC’s PAS and an alumna. “As a student entering the PA Studies office, she greeted me with a smile, funny story and a jar full of assorted candy. The only difference now as faculty is that I get a big ol’ hug, too. Sandy is a tiny lady with the biggest hugs and even greater personality. I will miss her, but I know she will come back to campus to visit her family over here in PA Studies.”

The last several years, Mann has supported the program with setting appointments, maintaining department files and other data related documents. She has been the support staff for the senior seminar course director and submits required documents to Texas Medical Board for graduates and the program. Mann is also the safety coordinator and property control manager for the PA Studies office.

“Sandy will be truly missed,” said PA Lauren Dobbs, chair of the Physician Assistant Studies program. “She has been a beaming light in the department. She has so much energy that just lights up the room and an ever-present smile. I’m so grateful that I was able to work with Sandy. She is one of those people that you are blessed to have met her let alone work with her!”

HSC's Sandra Mann retirement party (Photo 4)As a testament to her popularity, Mann has acquired an impressive roster of nicknames over the years: Mamma Bear, Sandra the Mann, the Mann, the Nucleus, Queen Mann, or simply, the Queen.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about, ‘What is my legacy,” she said. “The legacy is to be the warm welcomer as the students come in. And as they go out, give them a warm cheer. It makes me so proud.”

During retirement, Mann said she plans on spending time with her granddaughters, creating art and crafts — including finishing a blanket meant for Amanda that Mann’s mother started knitting before she passed away — riding motorcycles and traveling. She and her husband plan to travel to Las Vegas to renew their vows.

“For nearly three decades, Sandy has exemplified the very best of HSC’s Physician Assistant Studies program,” said Dr. Glenn Forister, dean of HSC’s School of Health Professions and an assistant professor in the PAS. “She brings so much joy to others; you almost never see her without a smile on her face. She’s been a great example to all our students, reminding them to never lose sight of their goal of serving others. We will miss her.”

As someone who has interacted with every PAS graduate, Mann takes the success of the program personally. She hopes whoever succeeds her will absorb as much information as possible — taking care to learn the experiences and expectations of every stakeholder.

“Wear a smile and warm demeanor,” she said. “Treat each student as if they were your own child. Keep evolving and excelling. I want to see this program continue to succeed as it has in the last 27 years.”

From HSC Newsroom - Our People by Eric Griffey