UPA staff

Our Journey

University Physicians' Association, Inc.

What began as a need to secure the clinical practice over 20 years ago remains the same today.

The healthcare industry continues to bring new challenges and UPA was designed to adapt to these unforeseen circumstances.

UPA's reputation remains solid. With continued focus on its foundational values of integrity, accountability, expertise, versatility and partnership, our mission is to offer the medical community seamless, knowledge-based solutions by providing accountable services customized to meet each client's specific needs and challenges.

Our team is equipped to assist you with complex and sensitive issues. Our flexible plan provides you with the freedom you need to select the services that benefit you. We are a well-established business and known in East Tennessee communities by providing services to physicians.

Physician Established Since 1995.

Physician Owned.

Physician Trusted.

Our History

Reflections of UPA

Reflections of UPA

Physicians prior to the 1990's were independently responsible for their own contract negotiations with the insurance carriers while balancing valuable time with their patient care. This pressed providers with additional burden to approach the carriers for fee schedules and reimbursement negotiations. Until fully credentialed with the multiple insurance carriers, they were not paid for their services. During this same time at UT Medical Center, physicians and medical senior leaders began discussing how to more effectively manage the contracts.

The creation of University Physicians’ Association, (UPA) in 1995 became the solution, allowing physicians to meet and contract with the managed care organizations as one alliance. The new physician led association provided their members with contract negotiations which were beneficial to the insurance carriers under one signature for all UPA physician members and broadened the specialty services into the insurance networks that was beneficial to the patient population. As an additional benefit and courtesy to the members, UPA provided administrative support for the coordination of the carriers’ application process and worked with the provider offices and the medical staff office for privilege verifications. While members moved through the UPA committee process, they were simultaneously moving through the full credentialing process with each of the carriers. This was a massive process that became very successful for physicians.

The UPA began with 231 physician shareholders, three administrative staff members and six managed care organization contracts that included BCBS, Bowater, Initial Group, Preferred Health Partnership, Tennessee Health Partnership and UnitedHealthcare.

UPA Initial Leadership:

Trent Nichols, MD, President

C.E. Bilbrey, CEO

David Hall, Executive Director

Kim Friar, Provider Relations Director

John W. Lacey, III, MD, Medical Director

UPA FOUNDING Board Members:

Trent Nichols, MD, President (General Internal Medicine)

John W. Lacey, III, MD, Medical Director (General Internal Medicine)

Janet Purkey, MD (General Internal Medicine)

Robert Elder, MD (General OB-GYN)

Daniel Cox, MD (Family Medicine)

Larry Davis, MD (Family Medicine)

Ann Stuart, MD (Family Medicine)

Jack Gotcher, MD (Dentistry)

Larry Rodgers, MD (General Pediatrics)

Patricia Mohr, MD (General Pediatrics)

Mark Gaylord, MD (Medical & Pediatric Specialties)

J. Russ Langdon, MD (Hospital Based, Anesthesiology)

Steve Morris, MD (Hospital Based, Anesthesiology)

James Cox, MD (Surgical Specialties, Cardiology)

Mark D. Anderson, MD (Surgical Specialties, Gastroenterology)

William Horton, MD (Surgical Specialties, Otolaryngology)

John Neff, MD (Medical Specialties, Pathology)

What began as a need to secure the clinical practice 25 years ago, remains the same today.

The healthcare industry continues to bring new challenges whereas UPA was designed to adapt to these unforeseen circumstances. Along the years, UPA has supported growth for our clinicians to enable more services with success and benefit to our region.

We are unique and UPA’s reputation remains solid. We are physician established and physician led. Our support team of individuals choose to make a difference. We are not here by chance. It’s because of the many hands that work together every single day that make up UPA’s family and as we celebrate UPA’s 25 years of awesome in 2020, we believe, our best is yet to come.

Robert F. Elder, MD & President, UPA

Click to view pdf:

Robert F. Elder, MD

President, UPA

UPA is proud to recognize Robert F. Elder, MD within our 25-year anniversary. Dr. Elder is specialized in gynecologic urology and his practice location is at UT Urogynecology. He is certified in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery with the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Apart from his busy practice, Dr. Elder is widely recognized for his extended leadership roles where he represents both patients and physicians in service with major health organizations at The University of Tennessee Medical Center, University Health System, Inc., The Graduate School of Medicine and alongside University Physicians’ Association, Inc. (UPA).

Upon completion of his education, internship and residency, he began his career at The University of Tennessee Medical Center in 1988. While building his professional career, Dr. Elder quickly advanced into the hospital’s committees and activities. In the early 90s, before UPA was established, he was actively involved in the development of UPA. When UPA became established in 1995, Dr. Elder was elected to represent the specialty of OB/GYN on the UPA Board of Directors and additionally named Chair of the UPA Membership Committee in 1997. Two years following, Dr. Elder was elected in 1999 as Secretary to UPA. He held those leadership roles until 2005 and was, then, elected by shareholders as UPA President. He has faithfully served as UPA President since then.

Dr. Elder continues to serve in multiple local and regional capacities for both UPA and the hospital. His dedication extends beyond a written description. However, we include two submissions from UPA’s own Leadership Team:


“Dr. Elder is a driving force, committed to UPA’s mission and values. Over the past twenty-five years, his leadership, along with the rest of our Board, has driven UPA to succeed.”

-Betzaida Shands, MBA, CHC, CHCO

Vice President, Regulatory Affairs & Chief Compliance Officer


“When Dr. Elder became our President, he continued the commitment to growth and business diversity started by those who came before him. Under his tenure as president, UPA became more widely known as the organization of which providers wanted to be a part. UPA is unique in that it allows its members to maintain autonomy while becoming associated with a larger and stronger organization. Providers wanted UPA’s strategy for managed care contracting, they wanted to practice medicine and not worry about employees, billing and all the other distractions that now interfere in a medical practice. Providers wanted the backbone of UPA behind them and that backbone was made stronger by Dr. Elder and his leadership.”

-Teresa Matherly

Vice President Information Systems & Chief Information Officer