PA History in Ten Objects

In this fun digital exhibit, the PA History Society features 10 objects from our museum collection that represent 10 milestone events that helped shape the PA profession. Do you have an object that would make an interesting feature in our museum collection? Please consider donating it to the Society!

Life Savers Then… Caregivers Now

In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States started to suffer from a healthcare shortage. Health practitioners were choosing to enter specialties rather than general practice and were moving out of rural areas to cities. During this, the Vietnam War was raging, with those who had been trained as medics returning to civilian life with no way to use their skills because they lacked “formal” education.

Life Savers Then… Caregivers now is the largest (and heaviest!) object in our museum collection. You can visit both the statue and the PA Veterans Garden at the Stead Center in Durham, North Carolina.

Original Duke PA Program Patch

In 1964, Dr. Eugene Stead Jr., cardiologist and Professor of Medicine and Chairman of the Department of Medicine at Duke University, announced his intention to create a “physician’s assistant” program to help alleviate the healthcare crisis in the country. He proposed to use former military corpsmen and medics. Duke accepted four former Navy Corpsmen into the inaugural PA program class in 1965. In 1967, three would graduate – Victor Germino, Richard Scheele and Kenneth Ferrell – creating a new profession!

This patch was donated to the Society by William Stanhope, the first president of the American Academy of PAs. To learn more about the history of the PA program patch and the PA dress code, please click here. You can view the Society’s entire patch collection here.

Look Magazine Sept. 6, 1966

Attention was brought to the Duke PA Program and the fledgling PA profession in 1966 with an article in the September 6th issue of Look Magazine. The “More Than a Nurse, Less than a Doctor” article drew the interest of thousands of servicemen returning from Vietnam as well as the public at large – though it did antagonize many in the nursing community. You can read this historical article here.

Alderson-Broaddus College Board Game

The first 4-year baccalaureate PA program was launched in 1968 at Alderson-Broaddus College in Philippi, WV, with program director Dr. Hu Myers at the helm. At the time, the college had a large rural and underserved medical community surrounding it. Dr. Myers hoped that the PA program would help supply the community with much needed healthcare providers. The program left a lasting impact on the profession by being a vanguard in PA programs offering a 4-year program instead of the 2-year certificate programs. To learn more about the history of Alderson-Broaddus College Program, click here.

The Game of Alderson-Broaddus College was created in 1980 and the historic PA program is featured on two squares of the game board.

The American Registry of Physicians’ Associates Lapel Pin

The American Academy of PAs was created by Duke PA program students in 1968. To learn more about the founding of AAPA, click here. Members of the AAPA who had become PA educators were growing concerned about the quality of the new PA programs that were springing up and the ease of people who might not be qualified to call themselves PAs. In response, they created the American Registry of Physicians’ Associates. The organization was to both come up with a set of standards for PA programs to adhere to and a way for “qualified” PAs to register to show they met appropriate criteria to serve their patients. You may learn more about the Registry by watching this video. In 1972, the Registry voted to create a group just dedicated to educators, the Association of PA Programs, now the Physician Assistant Education Association. To learn more about APAP/PAEA, click here. In 1975, the Registry dissolved, no longer needed with the creation of the PA certifying examination in 1973 and the creation of the National Commission on Certification of PAs in 1974. You may watch a video on the creation of the NCCPA here.

Journal of the American Academy of PAs Calculator

The official journal of the PA profession has gone through many name changes. The first issue was published as Physician’s Associate in 1971, and then changed to The P. A. Journal in 1973. It would keep this name until 1978 when it would be merged with the journal Health Practitioner. It would be renamed as Health Practitioner, Physician Assistant in 1980. In 1983, the journal would become PA Outlook until 1987 when it would finally settle on the name we know and love, the Journal of the American Academy of PAs (JAAPA).

This calculator is one of several fun products produced to promote the profession’s journal.

National PA Day Button

National PA Day was created in 1987 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the PA profession. October 6th was chosen as the day because it was the anniversary of the first PA class’s graduation from the Duke PA program. The date also happened to be Dr. Stead’s birthday. PAs were encouraged to wear pins and buttons on this day to spread awareness of the profession. In 2004, PA Day became PA Week and would start on October 6th each year. The PA profession’s growth and acceptance has relied on the advocacy of PAs to promote and educate the public and other healthcare workers on their profession since its inception.

Mississippi: PAs Needed Here Button

Securing PA practice legislation was a tough battle in many states and never more so than in New Jersey and Mississippi. New Jersey was the second to last state to have PA legislation passed in 1992. To learn more about New Jersey and their journey, watch this video. The only way a PA could legally work in the state of Mississippi was if they were employed through a VA hospital within the state. It wasn’t until 2000 that PAs finally won practice rights thanks to the tireless efforts of Murl Dotson, Ann Davis, and many other PA advocates. You may listen to an interview with Murl Dotson talking about his involvement here.

PA Associate A Better Name Button

The name of the PA profession has had a journey. At the beginning of the profession, PAs were known as “Physician’s Assistants” with an apostrophe “s” which sometimes wandered to the end to become “Physicians’ Assistants”. In 1971 the American Academy of PAs changed the title to “Physician Associates” to better differentiate between PAs who went to an academic PA program and those who were informally trained. Due to backlash from physicians at the time, the profession’s name returned to “Physician’s Assistants” in 1973. In 1980, the AAPA voted to formally abolish the apostrophe “s” changing it to “Physician Assistants”. The thought that “Physician Associate” was the better name stayed around, with movements in the late 1990s and early 2000s to change the name back. It wasn’t until 2020 that the AAPA House of Delegates voted to officially change the name to “Physician Associate”.

Gasoline Alley Original Comic Strips

The PA profession celebrated 50 years in 2017. PAs have been serving their communities and providing high quality healthcare since the profession’s inception in 1967. When the profession was starting, the nationally syndicated comic strip Gasoline Alley had one of its characters, Chipper Wallet, become a PA. Chipper was a former Corpsman like many of the early PAs and like many early PAs he was at a loss as to what to do when he came home from Vietnam. During the profession’s 50th year, the current cartoonist of the strip, Jim Scancarelli, brought Chipper back into the comic strip to wish every PA a happy anniversary and to create new adventures for Chipper! The PA History Society has the hand drawn strips featuring Chipper’s return and his participation in the 50th festivities! To learn more about the history of Chipper and Gasoline Alley and how PAs were shown in other media at the time, click here. You may also watch this short video!