National PA Week: The Origin of the PA Profession

National PA Week is celebrated every year, from October 6-12. It is a time to support, celebrate and recognize PAs, and increase public awareness of the PA profession. In the United States, Physician Assistants are a relatively new addition to the healthcare industry. The first class of PAs graduated on October 6th, 1967 - a date later adopted by the AAPA as National PA Day. However, the concept of a Physician Assistant was not new to the world as a whole. In 17th century Europe, German military medical assistants were utilized extensively on the battlefield to confront the serious lack of doctors against the number of wounded. Peter the Great soon saw tremendous potential in this system and introduced "Feldshers" into the Russian armies around 1650 - shortly after the war of Austrian succession, which inflicted heavy losses to the Russian Cavalry. Over the next century, practice within the armies and navies of Europe to train and appoint young soldiers or sailors as doctors assistants became more common. However, it wasn't until the mid-20th century that the concept of the Physician Assistant officially came to the United States. In 1959, the US Surgeon General had identified a shortage of medically trained personnel, and two years later, Dr. Charles Hudson, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, called for a "mid-level" (a term no longer in use) provider from the ranks of former military corpsmen. In 1965, Dr. Eugene Stead, Jr. introduced a two-year Physician Assistant program, and the first four physician assistant (PA) students, all ex-Navy hospital corpsmen, began training at the Duke University Medical Center. Reader's Digest wrote an article that year about jobs in the health care industry and mentioned the development of the PA program at Duke University - which caused a flood of inquires from ex-military candidates. Over the next few decades, the Physician Assistant profession grew at an extraordinary rate and today, there are over 81,000 certified PAs in the United States. Medelita is a PA-founded company, and as such, PAs have a special place in our collective hearts. In celebration of National PA Week, we will be highlighting exceptional Physician Assistants from all over the country, in many different specialties and with a variety of achievements.