1981 to 1990

Nationwide Adoption

The decade of the 1980s represents nationwide dissemination of an established profession. There is growing recognition of PA contributions to the medical workforce. With two exceptions, all states now authorize the delegation of responsibility by the physician to the physician assistant, provided that tasks assigned are within the scope of practice of the physician. Revision of statutes allows prescriptive privileges in most states. There is a clear trend toward specialization with PAs employed by physicians practicing all specialties. By the end of the decade, branches of the military service begin to grant commissioned officer status to PAs. In 1981 the NCCPA introduces the process of recertification by examination. In 1986, reimbursement of PA services under Medicare, Part B, is authorized under the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. The profession is poised for another period of rapid growth.


Staffing Primary Care in 1990: Physician Replacement and Costs Savings, by Jane Cassels Record, PhD, reveals that PAs based in an HMO can provide 79% of care traditionally performed by primary care physicians at 50% of the cost.

APAP conducts a third national survey of students and graduates with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation support. The results of the three national surveys are merged to establish a National PA Database. The AAPA assumes responsibility for updating and maintaining this database.

AAPA officially removes the apostrophe from "physician's assistant" changing the name of the profession to "physician assistant".

NCCPA introduces the Physician Assistant National Recertification Examination (PANRE). PAs who fail the exam are recertified for two years, but are required to retake the examination within that time period.


Physician Assistants: Their Contribution to Health Care, by Henry Perry, MD and Bina Breitner, is published by Human Sciences Press.


NCCPA's Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) is redesigned to include three components: a general knowledge core, an extended core in either surgery or primary care and observational checklist clinical skills problems (CSPs).


First Annual Report on Physician Assistant Educational Programs in the United States, by Dennis Oliver, PhD, is published by the Association of Physician Assistant Programs (APAP).

Judith B. Willis, PA-C, is the first woman elected president of AAPA.

The Canadian National Forces begin training and using PAs.

Alternatives in Health Care Delivery, edited by Reginald Carter, PhD, PA, and Henry Perry, MD is published by Warren H. Green, Inc.


AAPA's Burroughs Welcome Health Policy Fellowship is created. Marshall Sinback, PA-C, becomes the first fellow.

AAPA and APAP initiate an important joint project providing PA graduates with a national job bank service: PA JOB Find.

NCCPA's Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination is open to informally trained professionals for the last time.


With the encouragement and the support of the AAPA, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, PL 99-210, is signed into law. It provides reimbursement under Medicare, Part B, for PA services in hospitals and nursing homes and for assisting in surgery.

Physician Assistants: New Models of Utilization, edited by Sarah E. Zarbock, PA, and Kenneth Harbert, PhD, PA, is published by Praeger Publishers.

APAP begins work on the "PA of the Year 2000" project in cooperation with the AAPA. Led by Jack Liskin, APAP President, six work groups convene in New Orleans in October to develop recommendations relevant to PA practice and education for the year 2000.


National PA Day, October 6th, is established, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the first graduating class of PAs from the Duke University PA Program and, coincidentally, the birthday of Eugene A. Stead, Jr., MD.

The new AAPA National Headquarters at 950 North Washington Street is built and occupied in Alexandria, VA.

Informally trained PAs can no longer sit for the NCCPA Certification Exam. (Informally trained PAs were defined as those having physician verified experience as a PA for four out of the past five years preceding sitting for the NCCPA examination. Experience must have been gained in the United States or in the uniformed services of the US).

Additional Medicare coverage of PA services in rural and other underserved areas is approved by Congress.


The first issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (JAAPA) is published.

AAPA and APAP enter into a fixed-fee contractual arrangement for staffing services, including a part-time Coordinator of APAP services employed by the AAPA.

The JRC-PA is renamed the Accreditation Review Committee on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).

Duke University is the first program to offer a master's degree in PA education.


The newsletter, Perspective on PA Education, is published by APAP. Mike Huckabee, PA-C, is chosen as Editor.

Physician Assistants for the Future, an in-depth study of PA education and practice in the year 2000, begun in 1986, is published by APAP.

AAPA and APAP collaborate to publish A Guide for Institutions Interested in Creating New Physician Assistant Educational Programs.

US Navy and Public Health Service PAs are granted commissioned officer rank.


NCCPA and AAPA assign a joint task force to develop "Pathway II," a take-home version of recertification examination.

The APAP revises and publishes the National Directory of Physician Assistant Programs: 1990-92 to help individuals interested in becoming physician assistants locate and apply to PA educational programs.

End of the Decade

Number of PA programs accredited: 45
Number of physician assistants initially certified: 21,194