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The Origin of the Physician Assistant Profession

Before we can get into a discussion on just how the physician assistant profession began, it will be useful to precisely define just what a physician assistant is. In a nutshell, a physician assistant is a medical professional just like a regular doctor, but unlike said regular doctor, a physician assistant does not have all the autonomy to practice medicine in the same way that a regular doctor would. For example, a physician assistant oftentimes works under the direct supervision of a doctor. Still, though, a physician assistant can carry out a lot of the same things that a doctor does, and this includes writing prescriptions in some states, diagnosing sicknesses, advising patients on healthcare choices, helping out with surgical procedures and evaluating patients. The advantage to being a physician assistant is that a person does not have to go to school anywhere near as long as a regular doctor does, though. In some cases, the pay for a physician assistant can even reach close to the six-figure range, too!

The roots of this medical professional can be traced back a few decades, all the way back to the 1960s. Basically, at the mid-decade point of the 1960s, both regular doctors as well as educators in university settings actually began to realize that there was a pitiful dearth as well as an unequal distribution of primary care doctors. They decided that it was of utmost importance to make plans to successfully broaden the provision of high-quality medical care.

This effort culminated in 1965 when, one Dr. Eugene Stead out of the Duke University Medical Center, which is found in North Carolina, established the very 1st class for physician assistants. His choice of inclusion in this very 1st class of physician assistants was a group of Navy corpsmen who had gotten significant medical training while in service to the military and also during the war in Vietnam. However, what made this group of Navy Corpsmen such great candidates for the very 1st physician assistant program was the fact that they had no benefit of any comparable, civilian work. Interestingly, though, the basis of the curriculum for the very 1st class of physician assistants established by Dr. Stead was the faster-than-normal training of physicians that was quite common in World War II.

By the later part of the 1960s, two other doctors had also taken after Dr. Stead by establishing their own physician assistant programs. The two doctors were Dr. Hu Myers from Alderson-Broaddus College and Dr. Richard Smith from the University of Washington, respectively. These two doctors started up their very own physician assistant programs by the close of the 1960s. By 1970, the American Medical Association finally passed a resolution for the purpose of creating education-based guidelines as well as certification processes for physician assistants. Finally, the Duke University Medical Center Archives, appropriately so, has founded the Physician Assistant History Center, which is committed to the study, the presentation and the preservation of the physician assistant profession’s history.

So how did the physician assistant profession begin? It essentially started as a way to bridge the gap between doctors and patients, with an eye toward expanding the provision of primary care services. Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Dr. Stead from the Duke University Medical Center, the physician assistant profession grew out of his initial class into the ever-expanding medical profession that it is today. Physician assistants are professionals who provide a very vital service to patients, especially in situations when doctors can’t be everywhere at the same time. More and more people are choosing to become physician assistants in the present day.

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