History of the PA Profession

How did the physician assistant profession begin?

In the mid-1960s, physician shortages and an uneven distribution of primary care doctors were creating a strain on the nation’s healthcare delivery system. Dr. Eugene Stead at the Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina enrolled the first class of former military corpsmen into a new program to train physician extenders. Despite the extensive medical training and experience from the military, there was no corresponding civilian healthcare profession where these skilled veterans could make full use of their expertise. Dr. Stead built his new curriculum based partly on the fast-track physician training implemented by the military during World War II. Learn more about PA history.

In the late 1960s, Dr. Richard Smith also saw this need, particularly in the rural communities of the Pacific Northwest. After receiving funding for a federal demonstration project, Dr. Smith enrolled the first class of former military medics and corpsmen into the new MEDEX program at the University of Washington in Seattle. Learn more about MEDEX Northwest history.