New MCL&A Exhibit Celebrates the Duke PA Program

1967 PA ClassWe are happy to announce that our new exhibit, Celebrating 50 Years of the Duke Physician Assistant Program: The Birth of a Profession, is now on display. Featuring artifacts, photographs, and documents from the Medical Center Archives collections, the exhibit charts the founding, growth, and accomplishments of Duke’s PA Program. Highlights include a 1964 letter written by Dr. Eugene A. Stead, Jr., expressing his desire to start the program at Duke, scrapbooks and publications made by PA students, and the 1966 issue of Look magazine that introduced the profession, and Duke’s program, to the general public.

When Dr. Stead, then Chairman of Duke’s Department of Medicine, established the PA Program in 1965, it was the first of its kind in the nation. A two-year course that trained students to practice medicine and provide health care services under a doctor’s supervision, the program aimed to address the problem of the physician shortage, particularly in rural areas throughout North Carolina. While the initial recruitment was targeted at ex-military corpsmen who possessed some medical experience, Duke’s PA program soon attracted a wide range of applicants, including women and people of color seeking new career opportunities in medicine.

Today there are nearly 100,000 PAs practicing in the US. The success of the profession during the second half of the 20th century is due in part to the early efforts of Duke PA leaders, graduates, and students. They worked to have the profession legally recognized and accredited, founded the American Academy of Physician Assistants – the official organization for the profession – and were instrumental in the development of certification and continuing education guidelines.

Celebrating 50 Years may be seen on Level 1 of the Medical Center Library from October 1, 2015 to January 28, 2016. To learn more about the PA Program’s history, visit the PA Program Records finding aid or go to MEDSpace to see digitized items from this collection.

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