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Duke: The Birthplace of the Physician Assistant Profession

This is National Physician Assistant Week (Oct. 6-12), and it is appropriate to note that the Physician Assistant (PA) profession was born at Duke, launched in 1965 by Dr. Eugene A. Stead Jr., former chair of the Department of Medicine.

Stead established the first PA training program in 1965 in response to a growing demand for health care professionals, in the process coining the phrase “physician assistant.” Three former U.S. Navy corpsmen became the first graduates on Oct. 6, 1967 — Dr. Stead’s birthday, as it happened.

Now, more than half a century later, Duke’s PA program remains at the top of its class, perennially ranked the nation’s best. Under Program Director Jacqueline S. Barnett, the program graduates approximately 90 students each year who go on to practice in numerous specialty areas, including primary care, emergency medicine, and surgical and medical subspecialties.

“This program's influence reaches across the United States and beyond, playing an important role in access to care, improving health through advancing health equity, and addressing national anti-racism, inclusion and justice efforts. We are so proud of this program and our storied legacy and will continue to work passionately to move the program and the profession forward,” Barnett said.

In this video, April Stouder, associate program director of the Duke PA Program, explains the history and impact of the program.