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Date Published: February 1, 2024

February is Black History Month

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Not many people know that the PA profession was partly inspired by an African American man in the 1960s. Henry Lee “Buddy” Treadwell grew up in rural Garland, North Carolina; working on a farm until he graduated high school. After graduating, Treadwell began working for a local white doctor, Dr. Amos Johnson in 1940. Treadwell began his career there as an orderly, but his intelligence and ability to quickly learn things by observation led Johnson to teach and entrust him with more and more complicated tasks. By the 1950s, Treadwell was officially Johnson’s assistant, taking over the practice while Johnson was away for medical conferences or vacations. Treadwell was well known at Duke University Medical Center as he frequently accompanied patients for diagnostic referrals and treatments. Duke University Medical Center students often did rotations at the Garland clinic, under the tutelage of both Johnson and Treadwell. This relationship, Treadwell and Johnson’s, was well known by Dr. Eugene Stead Jr. when he began to develop his plans for a physician’s assistant program to quickly train medical professionals to aid doctors during the healthcare shortage at the time. Dr. Amos Johnson once said of Buddy Treadwell, “…the richest man in town would rather have Buddy sew him up than me because he can do it better than I can.” To learn more about Henry Lee “Buddy Treadwell, please read his biography by clicking here.

Prentiss Harrison was born and grew up in Texas before enlisting in the Army as a medic in 1961. He was assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for the majority of his service. After his service, he worked as an operating room technician at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before moving on to the Duke University Hospital as a urological research technician. While at Duke, he quickly learned the new PA program that was forming and was accepted into the second class at the age of 22. He was the first African American PA upon his graduation in 1968. With fellow classmates, he established the Minority Affairs Caucus within the American Academy of PAs in 1974. He also became the spokesperson for the profession among the African American medical community, educating physicians and students on the PA concept. To learn more about Prentiss Harrison, please read his biography by clicking here.

Joyce Nichols was not only the first female PA, but also an brilliant activist who fought for tenants’ rights in public housing. Nichols was working a licensed practical nurse at the Duke University Hospital when she learned from a co-worker, a former Navy Hospital Corpsman, about the new PA program. It took her three tries before being accepted into the program, being told a mother wouldn’t have time to study, a woman wouldn’t be able to take the program seriously, she lacked the medical background to succeed… She graduated from the Duke PA program in 1970. As a PA student, she became a member of the American Academy of PAs and co-founded the Minority Affairs Committee – she was the Committee’s first chair. To learn more about Joyce Nichols, please read her biography by clicking here.

The PA History Society has many biographies and oral history interviews of African American PAs who have made history by making a difference. Too many to list here! Below are a few of our more recent additions to our collections for you to enjoy and be inspired by. If you would like to see additional biographies, oral histories and videos, please click here to see our prior Black History Month Collection.


Nathaniel “Bird” Alston, PA-C – A longtime PA educator at the Hahnemann PA Program (which is now the Drexel University PA Program). He was major player in gaining legislation for PA practice in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Nicole Bailey Burwell, PhD, MSHS, PA-C – PA educator and current President of the PAEA.

Kara Caruthers, MS, PA-C – PA educator, former President of the PAEA.

Robin Hunter-Buskey, DHSc, CPHP, CCHP, CDCES, PA-C, Captain USPHS – A member of the US Public Health Service and was one of the few PAs sent to Liberia to aid in 2015 Ebola epidemic. She was the first African American to serve as chair of the NCCPA and is currently a trustee of the PA History Society.

Captain (Retired) Murl Dotson, PA-C Emeritus – Served as a PA at the Biloxi Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center, retiring after nearly 50 years of dedicated clinical service between the United States Air Force and Department of Veterans Affairs.  His journey to become a PA and help set the course for the PA profession and licensure in the State of Mississippi was “by far his destiny”.

Shani Fleming, MS, MPH, PA-C – A recognized national diversity and inclusion leader who has helped develop strategies and efforts to teach her academic colleagues about the importance and benefits of inclusion, diversity, equity and social justice in PA education.

Lillie Hudson, MSPA, MPH, PA-C – She has served her profession and the community of Los Angeles, CA as a physician assistant, an educator, and a researcher.

MAJ(P) Lakeshia Logan, DMSc, MPAS, PA-C, SP – a 4th generation military service member from Jacksonville, Florida. She is the first woman in her family to serve. She currently serves in a Train with Industry (TWI) position as a Research Fellow in the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians.

MAJ Adhana McCarthy – Has served in the Army for 18 years, 11 as an Army PA. She is also a C-IAYT Certified Yoga Therapist (1000) and a long-time advocate for integrative and lifestyle medicine practices in the Department of the Defense (DoD).

Richard Vause, DHSc, MPAS, PA-C, DFAAPA, FCPP – Has served the PA profession in a variety of way, including as a board member of the AAPA and the PA History Society (where he is the incoming president). Vause also served in the US Public Health Service and was an active member of the AAPA Veterans Causes.

MAJ Ashley Wheeler – She serves as the Commander of the 555th Forward Resuscitative Surgical Detachment at Fort Hood, Texas.