Family, Goodwill and Education Highlight Fahringer’s 35-Year Career

Professor Commemorates Anniversary of Daughter’s Death

By Loralyn Cecil
CHS Director of Philanthropy

Life was good.

David Fahringer and his wife, Fonda, were young professionals living in a beautiful apartment on the Research Medical Center campus in Kansas City in 1977 where David did his Radiology Technology training. After earning degrees at Mount Vernon Nazarene College in 1973 and Bethany Nazarene University in 1975, David had made strides in building a career in health care and had been working with his Nazarene church denomination in hopes that he would be able to do service work in an underserved area either in the United States or, maybe – hopefully – abroad. He was very pleased when he got the call from his church to work in radiology in Swaziland (now called Eswatini) for two years.

He came home that afternoon and said to his wife, “I have great news!” She responded with every bit as much excitement: “I have great news too!” They would be having a baby in Swaziland.

For David and Fonda, this became the running theme of their lives: Work and family life would be intrinsically tied. One would benefit from the other over years and across the globe. Recently, David announced he would be retiring at the end of June 2023 from the University of Kentucky as program director of Post Graduate Education in Physician Assistant Studies. His retirement marks more than 35 years of service to UK and a career in health care that was just beginning when he and Fonda shared their great news that day in Kansas City. 

Their baby was born soon after they settled into their new home in the small African country. Her parents gave her two names: Thandiwe, which means beloved and was given by a Swazi friend, and Tiffany Ann.

Making a Difference

David worked in radiology in the only hospital in the country where the radiology department was open every day, all day. He had to work many hours daily as the demand was great and very few people were qualified in radiology. Although educated as a teacher, his wife worked in the hospital pharmacy as a pharmacy tech. Fonda also helped set up homes for families who came from abroad as part of the church’s mission. Like others who shared in this mission, David and his family lived very simply in a cinder block home with a concrete floor and tin roof. The work was hard but they were making a difference in a community with great need.

“The point of Americans traveling for service work is to raise people in communities to a higher level of functionality,” David said.

He and his wife felt good about their work to accomplish this — and so did the community, the hospital where David worked, and the church’s mission board that had made the investment to send them to Swaziland. As the Fahringers approached the end of their two-year commitment, they were asked to commit to four more years of service in the country.

David saw he could turn this request into an opportunity. He agreed to return after a six-month break but with a caveat: The Nazarene church and the Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital would need to support him in creating a program to train local Swazis in radiology. David believed this was necessary to sustain the effort to make critical diagnostic radiology services available to patients. While all parties agreed to the concept, David was responsible for the work.

He used the six months in the United States to build the core of the program. He wrote and won a federal U.S.A. grant. He secured equipment and safety gear. He developed a curriculum. He recruited radiographers from the United States, Canada and Ireland to share in the work and training. He also made plans to advance his own education by working toward a Physician Assistant Studies degree when he returned to Africa.

David’s plan worked. For four years he trained and placed students. The education David and his team provider launched great careers for many of the graduates. One graduate started as a staff radiographer and later became the Chief Executive Officer for Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital. A number of graduates worked in radiology with local physicians but became owners of their own X-ray companies.  

During this second mission, David and Fonda had a second baby, Michael. Fonda was caring for the children at home, where Tiffany and Michael belonged to a diverse, international community. But as much as they valued this opportunity for their children, David and Fonda decided when they had completed their four-year commitment, they would return to Kentucky to help the family.

Preparing for his return to Kentucky, David applied to UK’s Physician Assistant Studies program in 1985. His interview was by phone from Swaziland. He didn’t take acceptance for granted.

“I was a non-traditional student,” he said. “They took a chance on me.”

He graduated from the Physician Assistant Studies program in 1988 and decided to dedicate his career to UK as a way to give back. He worked for several years in occupation and preventive medicine. In 1994 he applied to be a clinical coordinator for the PA program.

“I have done every job in this department since,” he said. Until recently he served as interim director of the program.

“Under David’s leadership, our department and program have been able to sustain exemplary success in recruitment, retention, academics, fundraising and research,” Dean Scott Lephart wrote.

Regardless of where he and his family are living, David said, “the love for international work still holds.”

From 1995 to 2010, David worked with faculty and leadership at the University of Wolverhampton in England to develop the PA profession and education in the United Kingdom. In 2010 he took a two-year work leave of absence to start the first PA program in the Middle East in Saudi Arabia with George Washington University-Medical Faculty Associates at Prince Sultan Military College of Health Science. He is also one of the four founders of the International Academy for Physician Associate Education.

It affected his entire family.

Dec. 13, 2021

“The impact of working internationally has affected all of our family,” he said. “We still to this day have a passion for helping others no matter where they are — here or someplace else in the world.”

Since returning to the United States, Fonda has worked through their church community to educate, promote and encourage prayer for needs around the world. Michael, although he was only three when he returned from Swaziland, supports missions in his local church and his parents’ international work.

And the diversity that surrounded Tiffany since she was born made a rich impact on her life. One friend was fond of saying that “her joy and her spirit bubbled out of her like she couldn’t contain the love she had for her family, friends and the world.” 

Exactly one year ago, on Dec. 13, 2021, Tiffany, who was expecting a child with her husband, Craig, died. Her large circle of family and friends joined together in their love for her. They described her as having “unending kindness and limitless generosity.” David’s friends and colleagues at the University of Kentucky believed the best way to celebrate her life — one filled with kindness and generosity and the Fahringer family’s love — would be to help others. They created the Tiffany Fahringer-Underwood Scholarship.

The Tiffany Fahringer-Underwood Scholarship will be awarded to students enrolled in the physician assistant studies program in the UK College of Health Sciences with preference given to students who have provided service to others, demonstrated an interest in medical mission work in the United States or across the globe and are in good standing in the program.

“One year ago we lost our dear daughter and her unborn child suddenly,” David wrote on Facebook. “You will always be in our hearts and minds. We will be releasing a white balloon today at the time of your passing last year 2021 and a blue and pink balloon in honor of your unborn child. I miss you so, so much.”

To make a gift to the Tiffany Fahringer-Underwood Scholarship online, go to For more information about how to make a gift, email Loralyn Cecil at or call 859-218-0563.