History of the Profession

Physician assistants were developed to address healthcare access issues in rural and underserved areas of the United States due to a shortage and maldistribution of primary care physicians.  In 1965, Dr. Eugene Stead, the Duke Department of Medicine chairman, established a program to formally educate “physician assistants” for the dual purposes of creating a solution for this shortage and providing career opportunities for returning military corpsmen. The education model was based in part on his experience of fast-track training of doctors during World War II, as well as his work in undergraduate medical education curricular reform. The physician assistant was initially viewed as a physician extender rather than a substitute. For more information about the history of the PA profession, please contact the Society for the Preservation of Physician Assistant History.

Physician assistants contributions to interprofessional practice, together with the intensive and efficient education model, have propelled the profession forward. As of October 2016, there are 210 accredited PA programs throughout the country. (2016, ARC-PA) Today, PAs practice medicine in all 50 states as well as in many countries around the world, and are authorized to prescribe medications in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam. According to the NCCPA, there are more than 110,000 individuals certified to practice in the United States (2016, ARC-PA).