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ATSU mourns passing of Dr. James Cannon, alumnus, former faculty and Board of Trustees member

A.T. Still University of Health Sciences (ATSU) mourns the passing of retired Cmdr. James D. Cannon, DHA, MBA, MS, PA-C, ’97, an ATSU alumnus, and former faculty and Board of Trustees member. 

Dr. Cannon was a graduate of ATSU’s inaugural physician assistant (PA) class. He then served as founding director of the Advanced PA program and developed and executed the nation’s first American Indian/Native American entry-level PA program, successfully recruiting 15 students. Later, Dr. Cannon spent eight years as a clinical associate professor at ATSU’s Arizona School of Health Sciences (ATSU-ASHS).

On Oct. 1, 2011, Dr. Cannon was elected to ATSU’s Board of Trustees, and served as both secretary and vice chair before concluding his service nearly nine years later.

Dr. Cannon died March 31, 2024. Interment is planned at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Dr. Cannon’s legacy will live on at ATSU through everyone he touched,” said ATSU President Craig Phelps, DO, ’84. “James always made me smile with a quick story about his daughter, Patricia, latest entrepreneurial adventure, or recent activity on behalf of the physician assistant community. He is deeply missed by our University community.”

“Dr. Cannon’s tireless efforts recruiting Native American physician assistant students at ATSU was a cornerstone in improving healthcare representation,” said Randy Danielsen, PhD, DHL(h), PA-C Emeritus, DFAAPA, professor and director, ATSU-ASHS Doctor of Medical Science program. “His dedication to both the PA profession and whole person healthcare was renowned by colleagues and patients alike. His influence continues to inspire us.”

Dr. Danielsen (left) and Dr. Cannon

Dr. Cannon’s life and career were recognized in a resolution passed by the American Academy of Physician Assistants’ House of Delegates, which read as follows:

Honoring James Dean Cannon, DHA, MBA, PA-C, MS, DFAAPA
CDR (ret.) U.S. Coast Guard

Memoriam Resolution for James Cannon

Whereas Dr. James Dean Cannon served as, a non-medical provider, Commander of an Arizona Army National Guard medical detachment in the late 80’s, this is where his interest in the PA profession was sparked.


Whereas Dr. Cannon was in the inaugural cohort of the A.T. Still PA program graduating in 1997. During that time Dr. Cannon successfully recruited 15 Native American students into the A.T. Still National Center for American Indian Health Professions as a way to improve representation by developing outreach to American Indian and Alaska Native high school and college students, with the goal of sparking interest in healthcare careers. He launched his academic career as the first director of the A. T. Still Advanced PA Program that bridged bachelor degree trained PAs to earning Masters degrees.


Whereas Commander Cannon received a direct commission into the Coast Guard Reserves, deploying to Iraq and Kuwait for Operation Iraqi Freedom and subsequently was assimilated to Active Duty Coast Guard in 2004.


Whereas Commander Cannon was assigned to numerous duty stations, culminating in holding dual posts as the PA Force Manager, Director of Field Operations and Commanding Officer of Enlisted Personnel for the Clinical Workforce of the service. Under Commander Cannon’s leadership, Coast Guard PA pay and benefits were modernized to include permanent bonuses, incentive pay, and board certification pay. He led or created access to post-graduate programs for Coast Guard PAs. 


Whereas Dr. Cannon was an active member of several PA professional groups, including the American Academy of PAs, Veterans Caucus, Virginia Association of PAs, and Association of PAs in Psychiatry. His leadership, vision and foresight paved the way for the Association of Pas in Psychiatry as a constituent chapter of the AAPA. His voice was impactful, advocating for legislative changes thereby opening doors and opportunities for PAs in psychiatry; creating opportunities for PAs to practice thereby filling the gap in mental health services.

He also served on the Board of Trustees of A.T. Still University as the only non-physician or dentist director. In this role, he facilitated the envisioned future of the 125 year founding school of Osteopathy. He held appointment on the Board of Trustees for South Hampton Memorial Hospital in Franklin, VA. 


Whereas Dr. Cannon was a passionate behavioral health advocate establishing and serving as the President and CEO of Assure Wellness Group. He continued to practice inpatient psychiatry while growing a thriving wellness practice with clinics in Chesapeake and Alexandria, VA and Jacksonville, N.C.


Whereas Dr. Cannon’s educational accomplishments reflect principles of life-long learning earning 

• A Doctor of Health Administration in Mental Health Policy from University of Phoenix

• A Masters’ of Science in PA Studies from AT Still University of Health Sciences 

• A Master’s of Business Administration from National University.

• NCCPA Psychiatry Certificate of Added Qualifications


Whereas Dr. Cannon’s was an AAPA Distinguished Fellow. His organizational leadership roles and memberships included:

President Public Health Service Academy of PAs 

Member AAPA – CEO Search Committee Member and other committees and task forces

Chair NCCPA Commission Board and service of eight years

Director-at-large for the Veterans Caucus and Virginia Association of PAs,


Whereas Dr. Cannon retired at the rank of Commander from the U.S. Coast Guard after years of total uniformed service, he was not done. He cultivated a passion for cars, piloting his personal aircraft & riding motorcycles. He routinely traveled for both professional and humanitarian activities as well as in pursuit of his personal educational passion projects.

The Army, U.S. Coast Guard, Public Health Service, and all PAs mourns this leader, educator, innovator, clinician, and humanitarian.

Resolved, The AAPA HOD acknowledges the dedicated service of Dr. James Dean Cannon for improving outcomes for patients through leadership, academia, clinical care, and humanitarian efforts. 

Commander Cannon, you stand relieved. We have the watch.

Be it further resolved, that a copy of this resolution be shared with the PA profession and provided to his daughter, Patricia Labbe, with deepest sympathy from the members of the American Academy of PAs.

Related AAPA Policy 


Possible Negative Implications


Financial Impact



I attest that this resolution was reviewed by the submitting organization’s Board and/or officers and approved as submitted.

Signature & Contact for Resolution



Robin Hunter-Buskey, DHSc, CPHQ, CCHP, CDCES, PA-C

Captain, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps 

Life Member Veterans Caucus

Tracy Branch, DHSc, CPH, MPAS, PA-C, DFAAPA

Captain, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps

President, Public Health Service Academy of PAs

Ian Marks, PA-C

Commander, U.S. Coast Guard

Delegate Veterans Caucus, Inc.

Co-sponsors, U.S. Army, Virginia Academy of PAs, NCCPA (HOD observers)


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