Duke Celebrates 50 Years of Physician Assistant Programs

50 years ago, Duke University founded the very first Physician Assistant program, forming the base of a medical tradition that is absolutely crucial to the maintenance of health in the modern world. Last week, they celebrated that 50-year heritage, inviting alumni from around the globe to be honored for their contributions to medicine.

The program was established by Dr. Eugene Stead to address a growing shortage of physicians in 1965. By teaching students how to take patient histories and perform basic examinations, physicians were free to focus on other tasks and see more patients. Since its inception, the program has grown to a powerhouse offering a rotation through clinics in five different countries. Its graduates are able to enter into a diverse range of fields, and importantly, it also boasts an almost equal male to female ratio, reflecting changing opinions on women in the workplace over the past half century.

The program’s current director, Karen Hills, believes that it is the Duke’s Physician Assistant’s programs responsibility to stay at the forefront of the field. Physician Assistant’s today are often expected to make independent medical decisions, and that is reflected in an increase in the quality and complexity of Duke’s PA program.

Part of this comes from the unique requirement on Duke PA students that they complete 1,000 hours of clinical healthcare experience prior to entering into the program. Nurses, EMTs, and army medics are just some of the many different medical specialists who would qualify to enter the program. Every classroom is filled with students with diverse medical experiences that adds to the group’s learning process.

Many of the techniques and procedures used at Duke have been emulated with great success in physician assistant programs around the world. PAs everywhere have the honor of celebrating, alongside Duke, their contributions over the past half century to the world of medical science and the countless lives saved as a result.


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