This article appears in the October issue of JAAPA.
The physician assistant (PA) profession emerged out of the nation’s need to increase primary care providers in underserved areas in efforts to improve access to care and health outcomes in those communities. The prototype practitioner on whom Eugene Stead, Jr., MD, based his concept of the physician assistant (PA) was Henry Lee “Buddy” Treadwell, who had served as a military corpsman and was trained by Amos N. Johnson, MD. Early diversity in the profession began when Prentiss Harrison became the first black graduated from Duke University’s PA program in 1968, followed by Joyce Nichols (the first female PA and first black female PA) in 1971. In the early 1970s, three PA programs (Charles Drew University, Harlem Hospital, and Howard University) were established in urban areas to train blacks and other minority populations to provide care to the surrounding communities.
Since those first classes were graduated from Duke University, the profession has experienced tremendous growth. In a recent 10-year span, the estimated number of certified PAs increased from 43,500 in 2003 to about 95,580 in 2013, and accredited PA programs grew from 134 to 181. Although the profession has changed from being predominately male in the early years to 66% female today, the racial and ethnic diversity of the profession continues to lag.
Diversity reflects many demographic factors (including sex, sexual orientation, and disability status), racial and ethnic diversity serves as the basis for much of the research about healthcare disparities and the shortage of racial and ethnic minorities within the health profession.
Read the rest of this article in the October issue of JAAPA.