Richard (Dick) Scheele 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, Kenneth Ferrell 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 graduating high school in Chicago, IL Scheele spent four years in the US Navy as a hospital corpsman working primarily as a surgical technician. After being discharged, he attended colleges in Illinois and North Carolina. He was working as a pharmaceutical representative when he learned about the program from an article about new health careers that appeared in the Reader’s Digest August 1965 issue. The article was written before the PA Program was formally sanctioned by the University and when it still existed primarily on paper and in theory.
Scheele was 28 years old when he graduated from the Duke PA Program and like his classmates, took a job at the Duke University Hospital working for the Division of Endocrinology. Two years later, he joined a cardiologist in private practice in Durham, North Carolina. Being an enthusiastic advocate of the physician assistant concept, he maintained contact with the faculty and students of the Duke PA Program. He was ardent and vocal about the need for PAs to organize and have a voice in their chosen profession. He talked Bill Stanhope and other students and graduates of the Duke Program into establishing in 1968 the American Association of Physician’s Assistants, the forerunner of the current American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA). He was a charter member of the organization and worked hard to expand its membership. He helped contact and persuade students and graduates from other emerging PA programs to join and to become a single, national voice for physician assistants.
Scheele died of a heart attack in 1970 at the age of 31, leaving behind a wife and young daughter who later followed in his footsteps by becoming a physician assistant. Because of his leadership and pioneering efforts for the PA profession, the Duke PA Program established an award in his name in 1970 to be presented annually to a graduating student who exemplifies Scheele’s academic and professional leadership. He was inducted into the Duke PA Program’s Alumni Hall of Fame in 2003.
Acknowledgments:This Biographical Sketch was prepared by Reginald Carter, Ph.D, PA and submitted to the Society on February 10, 2010. The photographs of Mr. Scheele are provided courtesy of the Duke University Medical Center Archives. The first photograph of Mr. Scheele is reproduced from a class composite printed in 1965. The second photo is cropped from a photo taken in 1967 by Duke Photography at a certificate signing ceremony. Resources include personal communication with Mr. William Stanhope, the AAPA’s first president, and a biographical sketch found on the Duke University PA Program’s website.