Award-winning professor returns to class as student

Dr. George Ordway is not the retiring type. The former professor of physiology has decided to steer away from the "retiring" part of retirement and into a new career that requires almost three more years of graduate education.

"I didn't see myself as completely retiring," he said. "I felt I wanted to take care of patients, and the PA (physician assistant) program offered me the best opportunity to do that."     

So Dr. Ordway, recipient of UT Southwestern's 2005 Pre-Clinical Distinguished Educator Award, gave up his faculty position and took up a student position in the allied health school's PA program this fall --' a decision he said he made with equal parts exhilaration and reluctance.

He said it was hard to tell his colleagues and friends that he wouldn't be coming back as a teacher.

"I knew it would be a difficult decision, and I felt a sense of responsibility to the people who have given me so many opportunities to do well at what I do," he said.

Dr. Ordway received his doctoral degree in physiology and specialized in cardiovascular physiology. He began his career at UT Southwestern as a postdoctoral research fellow in 1979. After three years, he joined the faculty of the Department of Physiology, where he began honing his skills as a teacher. Dr. Ordway also headed up the Science Teacher Access to Resources at Southwestern, or STARS program, since 1994.

Colleagues said it was tremendously difficult to see Dr. Ordway leave his position.

"When he told me he was going to retire, I couldn't believe it," said Dr. James Stull, chairman of physiology and holder of the Fouad A. and Val Imm Bashour Distinguished Chair in Physiology. "He's been in the department for a very long time, and he's been an outstanding teacher."

Dr. Stull also said he admired the way Dr. Ordway encouraged and inspired fellow faculty as well as his students.

"I've always enjoyed working with people, which is why I've enjoyed teaching," Dr. Ordway said.

He added that he's had no trouble transitioning to the role of a student again. Dr. Ordway said that he was always learning something new, whether it is in the role of teacher or of student.

"The students and everyone associated with the PA program have all been great and extremely supportive of my decision to make this change," said Dr. Ordway. "I'm honored to be a member of the PA class of 2007.

"It's been challenging because older brains don't pick up things as quickly as younger brains, but it's enlightening to sit through entire courses now as a student. It's fun to see how I could've done some things differently as a teacher."

The reaction he's received from his fellow students is something he describes as "invigorating."

"It's a hard sell to get them to call me 'George' and not 'doctor'," he joked.

Dr. Ordway explained that his new career as a physician assistant will also allow him a lot more flexibility in terms of specialties and geographic locations. Of course, his talents as a teacher won't go to waste, either.

"Maybe I won't be teaching in a lecture hall, but one-on-one with patients," he said.