National PA Week Celebrates 51 Years

By Maj. Deborah OldfieldOctober 7, 2019

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- The Physician Assistant profession was born Oct. 6, 1967. This year's National PA Week celebrates 51 years of the profession this week across the Nation.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

A shortage of physicians and allied healthcare professionals in the early 1960s prompted Dr. Charles L. Hudson to publish an article in the Journal of The American Medical Association entitled "Expansion of Medical Professional Services with Nonprofessional Personnel."

At the same time, roughly 30,000 medics were being discharged annually from the Vietnam conflict, but their extensive medical education and practical skills failed to translate into jobs in the civilian healthcare sector. Dr. Eugene Stead, Jr. of Duke University saw an opportunity to fill the primary care void with these former Soldiers and established the first Physician Assistant training program.

The program graduated the first class of three PAs Oct. 6, 1967. The profession caught on and continues to grow at a 10-year growth rate of 30%, per the U.S. Department of Labor in 2015.

The Air Force was first among the Armed Services to establish a PA program in 1971. The Navy and Army followed closely. The first Army PAs graduated in 1973 as warrant officers. It wasn't until 1992 that Army PA graduates were commissioned as officers.

Leaders and Clinicians.

Army PAs are regularly recognized for excellence, both as Army leaders and in the field of medicine. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Louis Rocco received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions under fire, after a Blackhawk he was traveling was shot down in Vietnam. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Gerald T. Mlaker became the first PA to earn The Surgeon General's Physician Assistant Recognition Award in 1983. In 1992, Chief Warrant Officer 3 William Donovan earned the Soldier's Medal after saving fellow Rangers from drowning in a helicopter crash, and became the first PA to be inducted into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame. In 2002, Maj. Sherry Womack became the first woman to accompany Special Forces into combat.

In May 1996, the individual Armed Services' PA programs were consolidated into the Interservice Physician Assistant Program. Today, upon completion of the classroom portion of IPAP, students receive a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

After completion of their clinical rotations and a thesis paper, they are awarded a Master of Physician Assistant Studies from UNMC and are commissioned as first lieutenants. Each graduate must take and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination and maintain certification with the National Commission on Certification of PAs by re-testing every 10 years.

You can find PAs working in every medical specialty and subspecialty service. Your PAs work hard to preserve the fighting strength of your unit. PA Week is an opportunity for you to thank them for their efforts and to learn more about what they do. Being an Army PA is a singularly rewarding experience.

For more information on how to become an Army PA, please see AR 601-20 or visit