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Henry B. Perry, MD, PhD, MPH

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Physician Assistants: Their Contribution to Health Care was published in 1982. The book, co-authored by Henry B. Perry and Bina Breitner, was written while Perry was a surgical resident at the Maine Medical Center in Portland. The book provided a historical review of the PA profession’s development during its first two decades and explored future use of PAs in the USA, Europe and developing countries. In the book, Perry called for an increase in the training of PAs to improve the distribution of health manpower and make health care services more available to the underserved in isolated rural areas and in low-income urban areas, to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign medical graduates, and to make it possible to reduce the oversupply of general surgeons which was a policy issue at that time. In addition to primary care, Perry saw an increasing need for PAs to assist specialists, especially surgeons. In 1984, Perry co-edited a book with Reginald Carter titled Alternatives in Health Care Delivery: Emerging Roles for Physician Assistants. The book was written for physicians, PAs, health educators, health administrators and policy makers. The authors were MDs, PAs, health policy experts and educators who were intimately involved in the PA profession and wrote from experience. Both books helped shape future policy making decisions during the 1980’s. Because of his significant contribution to the development of the PA profession, Perry was made an honorary PA by the AAPA in 1985.

Perry was born in Boone, NC, a small community located in the Appalachian Mountains. He received his undergraduate degree from Duke University in 1968 and entered the Duke University School of Medicine the following academic year. After his second year of medical school, Perry transferred to the Johns Hopkins University where he obtained his MPH, MD and PhD degrees. He interned at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore City Hospitals (now Bayview Medical Center) from 1974-1975 in internal medicine and then went to the Maine Medical Center in Portland to complete his residency in general surgery in 1981. Perry’s advanced training in public health, the social sciences, and general surgery prepared him for his role in helping improve the delivery of health care to developing countries and medically underserved communities.

His interests in community health brought him in contact with Dr. Harvey Estes, Jr. who chaired Duke’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health Sciences at the time. Estes exposed him to the PA concept and as a medical student, he learned alongside several of the first PA students at Duke in the fall of 1969. He was impressed with their competence, compassion and maturity. When he began studying public health at Hopkins the following year, he realized the potential of mid-level health professionals to underserved areas of developing countries. PAs were also of interest to two Hopkins’ faculty, Dr. Archie Golden and Dr. Dennis Carlson, both having many years of experience in Latin America and Africa, respectively. As a graduate student in the Department of Social Relations, Perry decided to conduct a national survey of the physician assistant and Dr. Dory Storms of Hopkins and Suzanne Greenberg of Northeastern University were extremely supportive and helpful. As a result, he was able to carry out the first extensive survey of the profession in 1974. Later, as a surgical resident in Maine, the obvious contributions of physician assistants to surgical services led Perry to conduct another survey – this time of large hospitals to assess their current use of physician assistants.

Perry worked from 1979 until 1995 with Andean Rural Health Care (now Curamericas Global), which he founded and which continues its work in community-based primary health care in Bolivia and Guatemala. From 1995 until 1999, he worked in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh: Centre for Health and Population Research and also with the BASICS Project (Basic Support for Institutionalizing Child Survival), where he supported efforts to strengthen maternal and child health programs throughout Bangladesh. He has three and one-half decades of experience in the design, implementation, and monitoring/evaluation of maternal and child health programs as well as in research and teaching about health and health care in resource-poor settings.

Perry joined Future Generations in 2004 as the Carl Taylor Endowed Professor for Equity and Empowerment. At Future Generations, he has responsibilities for teaching in its new master’s degree program, for promoting equity and empowerment, and applied research. Future Generations is an international NGO working to promote community-led change through newly developed approaches for community diagnosis and action planning, teaching programs, and applied research. Its programs are located in India, China, Afghanistan, and Peru. He is currently heavily engaged in a systematic review of the effectiveness of community-based primary health care in improving child health in collaboration with the American Public Health Association, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank.”

From 1999 until 2003, Perry provided support and leadership to the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti, an integrated system of hospital, primary health care, and community development activities that serves 300,000 people in the Artibonite Valley. During this time, Dr. Perry carried out a comprehensive program evaluation and led the institution toward a stronger commitment to equity, community empowerment, and outcomes-based performance.

Perry has authored numerous publications, scientific articles and books. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Global Health at the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University, and Associate in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health of the Johns Hopkins University. He is a founding member of the Working Group on Community-Based Primary Health Care of the International Health Section of the American Public Health Association and from 2001-2007 served as Chairperson of that Working Group. In addition, he has served as a consultant to the World Bank, UNICEF, CARE, Save the Children, World Relief, World Vision, Plan International, as well as other smaller organizations, working in numerous countries around the world.

Perry has a strong interest in the strengthening of the quality and effectiveness of community-based health care programs in developing countries, in the integration of child survival and reproductive health activities at the field level, in the involvement of communities in their health programs, and in the promotion of equity and empowerment for impoverished people. He maintains enthusiastic interest in the physician assistant profession and the potential of mid-level health professionals to play a key role in the emerging health systems of poor countries.
At present, Perry and his wife, Mirlene, reside in Baltimore, MD. He has two sons from a previous marriage. Baker teaches geography at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, and Luke is an architect completing graduate studies at the University of California at Berkely.

Acknowledgments: This biographical sketch was prepared by Reginald Carter with the assistance of Henry B. Perry and submitted to the Society on May 1, 2008. The banner photograph is courtesy of the PA History Society. Dr. Perry is lecturing at the 1985 AAPA conference. The second photograph is courtesy of Dr. Perry.

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