The picture to the right graced the cover of the Northeastern University PA program catalog in 1987. What they didn’t know at the time was that the photo featured not one but two future PAs — my father as a first-year PA student, and I as a wide-eyed 4-year-old.
I certainly had no idea then that my father was about to become a PA, or even what a PA was, much less that my meandering career path would eventually lead me to the same profession.
My PA dad
A year and a half later, my father joined a PA profession that was quite different from today’s and had little public recognition. He had no prescriptive privileges and his starting salary was much less than mine (a fact my father is quick to acknowledge with an eye roll and a smile).
My father’s first job was in a prison infirmary, where he was able to quickly hone his physical exam and suturing skills. I remember the many times he had to leave family dinners to respond to a page from the prison.
After a few years of stitching self-inflicted lacerations, he transitioned to Harvard Community Health Plan to work in ambulatory urgent care. He eventually rose to become the chief of urgent care and chief of medicine there and also president of the Massachusetts Association of Physician Assistants.
As MAPA president, he testified before the state Senate in support of prescriptive privileges for PAs, a day he remembers as “one of the most stressful days of my life.” He continued to gain responsibility and respect as a PA, and is now the director of PAs for Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, a nonprofit multispecialty group medical practice operating in eastern Massachusetts.
Following in his footsteps
Growing up with a PA for a dad was a good match for my natural curiosity about the anatomy and pathology of medicine. (As a 5-year-old I even presented my father with a hand-drawn picture of a four-chambered “hert” for his graduation from PA school.)
Given this combination, you could be forgiven for thinking my path to becoming a PA was direct. But while I did work as a medical assistant before attending college, it was the last encounter I had with medicine for several years.
I took only one science class my first time through college, graduating with an English degree. But after several odd jobs I returned to my previous job as a medical assistant. Reentering the dynamic world of medicine cemented my decision to become a PA, but even then the pathway into PA school was not straight.
I took prerequisites and applied to PA school but was not accepted. So I took more prerequisites, and four years after deciding to attend PA school I was finally accepted to Northeastern’s PA program, from which my father graduated. I graduated in 2013, my father presented me with my diploma and we became the first father/son duo to graduate from the Northeastern program.
My father is proud of me for choosing the profession, and I am proud of him for being a career role model for me — one both inspiring and daunting. His career encapsulates how much the profession has changed: He started as a PA without prescriptive privileges and today manages more than 100 PAs and two dozen physicians.
Although I still have a lot to learn, my father and I share a mutual respect — as colleagues, as clinicians and as father and son. Our family members are now even starting to ask me medical questions, instead of my father, and every once in a while I can explain a new disease process or procedure to my dad. During these moments we both smile, knowing the torch is being passed and a legacy created.
Josh Duger, PA-C, specializes in cardiothoracic surgery at Boston Medical Center.