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William G. Anlyan, MD

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Crucial to the recorded history of any profession are its behind-the-scenes, backstage dramas as well as its featured players. Although Dr. Eugene Stead Jr. is the recognized father of the physician assistant profession, few people know that William Anlyan, M.D. was its uncle. As Dean of Duke University’s School of Medicine, Anlyan stood staunchly behind Stead’s innovative, but ill-fated, Masters Nurse Practitioner program. In addition, Anlyan’s influential leadership helped Stead’s subsequent PA concept gain a national reputation and later massive funding from DHEW as well.

One of three boys, William Anlyan was born in 1925 in Alexandria, Egypt, where he attended an English school and Victoria College. Having excelled in the Oxford-Cambridge Higher Tests, he entered Yale University in 1941 at age 16. It was the beginning of World War II, and his father’s connections secured for him and his brothers safe transport on a Liberty Ship to America. Anlyan earned his B.S. in zoology from Yale in fifteen months and went on to its medical school.

In 1949, he went to Duke University for his residency in thoracic surgery, became full professor of surgery in 1961 and Dean of the School of Medicine in 1964. His clinical work, research, teaching and numerous publications won him the prestigious Abraham Flexner Award in 1980.

It is most unusual for a physician to become president of a University – a post traditionally given to a scholar Ph.D. However, owing to his remarkable administrative skills, he was named Chancellor of Duke University in 1988. Upon retirement, Anlyan was appointed Chancellor Emeritus and Trustee of the Duke Endowment.

The relationship between Stead and Anlyan is a case study of collaboration, and one of the cornerstones of the PA profession. Far from professional jealousy of each other, thoracic surgeon Anlyan and internist Stead worked unusually closely clinically. They made mutual referrals and Stead attended Anlyan’s surgeries on his patients. In a return compliment, Anlyan once quipped that everything he knew about medicine, he learned from that consummate teacher, Dr. Stead.

Dr. Anlyan died January 17, 2016. He was 90 years old. The Chancellor of Duke University Medical Center wrote, “His passing is a tremendous loss because of the way he lived his life, the achievements he brought to fruition and the legacy he bequeaths to us all. May we long remember him.”

Acknowledgments: This biography was written by Ann Bliss, with the assistance of William Anlyan, and was submitted to the Society in March 2013. The first photograph was provided by William Anlyan. The second photograph is courtesy of the Duke University Medical Center Archives, Durham, NC.

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