Kenneth (Ken) Ferrell has the distinction of being one of the first physician assistants (PAs) to be educated and to work in the United States. He graduated from Duke University on October 6, 1967 along with two other individuals, Richard Scheele and Victor Germino, all former US Navy hospital corpsmen. They were handpicked by Dr. Eugene Stead, Jr. and other physicians at Duke to complete a two-year curriculum within the Department of Medicine.
After attending high school in Durham, NC, Ferrell joined the United States Navy in 1963. A friend living in Durham learned about Dr. Stead’s plans to begin an educational program for physician assistants at nearby Duke University and contacted Ferrell to see if he might be interested. Ferrell was in the Caribbean at the time serving on the USS Ashland out of the Little Creek Naval Base, Norfolk, VA. Wanting to enhance and use his medical skills after leaving the Navy, Ferrell asked his friend to arrange an interview for him at Duke. While home on leave, he met with Dr. Stead and Jim Mau, the administrator for the Department of Medicine at the time, and was invited to join a cohort of four individuals to start the program full-time in the fall of 1965. At 21, he was the youngest member of the group.
Ferrell remained at Duke after he graduated the PA program in 1967. He worked clinically for twenty years with pulmonary and allergy specialist Herbert O. Sieker, MD in the Department of Medicine at Duke. He left clinical practice to become an administrative manager with Duke’s Private Diagnostic Clinic (PDC). Over time, he became an expert in the analyst of reimbursement, coding and compliance regulations – vital to revenue and billing operations. He also served as the clinic’s medical auditor.
Ferrell is a charter member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants founded by Duke graduates and students in 1968. During Duke’s PA Program’s commencement in 1995, Ferrell was asked as the program’s first graduate (alphabetically) to congratulate and poise for a photograph with the program’s thousandth graduate. On October 8, 2007 he was honored at the unveiling of a commemorative plaque placed in Baker House, Duke South, in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the graduation of the first class of PAs at Duke. He was inducted into the Duke PA Program’s Alumni Hall of Fame in 2009.
Acknowledgments: This Biographical Sketch was prepared by Reginald Carter, Ph.D, PA and submitted to the Society on February 2, 2010. The photographs of Mr. Ferrell are provided courtesy of the Duke University Medical Center Archives and the Society for the Preservation of Physician Assistant History. The photo of Mr. Ferrell as a student was taken by Phillip Harrington for Look Magazine in 1966 and is used with his permission. Resources include a transcript of an oral history interview conducted in 1990 with Mr. Ferrell and a biographical sketch found on the Duke University PA Program’s website.