OHSU celebrates National P.A. Week Oct. 6-12

PA reunion 2016

October 11, 2016

Each year, the physician assistant (P.A.) profession celebrates National P.A. Week October 6-12. During this time, physician assistants strive to increase awareness of and appreciation for the physician assistant profession.

Physician assistants are health care professionals licensed to practice medicine. P.A.'s perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications, order and interpret lab tests, perform procedures, assist in surgery, provide patient education and counseling and make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes. Physician assistants can specialize in almost any area of medicine.

The P.A. profession was created in the 1960s as a way to improve and expand health care. After World War II, the number of primary care physicians began to decline as more and more physicians began to specialize. In response to this, Eugene A. Stead, Jr., M.D., of Duke University Medical Center, had an idea to create a new profession that was based on his knowledge of the fast-track training of doctors during World War II. The first Physician Assistant class included four Navy corpsmen who had received considerable medical training during their military service. These first P.A.'s graduated from the Duke University P.A. program on Oct. 6, 1967. It is for this reason that physician assistants celebrate each year in October. 

The physician assistant profession is one of the fastest-growing professions in America. The demand for P.A.'s has increased more than 300 percent from 2011-2014, according to the health care research firm Merritt Hawkins. This increased demand for P.A.'s has resulted in a proliferation of P.A. training programs. Currently, there are 210 accredited P.A. programs and over 108,000 certified P.A.'s in the United States, District of Columbia, U.S. territories and uniformed services. 

The P.A. educational program is modeled on the medical school curriculum, with a combination of classroom and clinical instruction. Most P.A. students have had prior health care experience and must meet prerequisite coursework with a strong basic science background. Physician assistant training is rigorous. OHSU P.A. students complete 153 credit hours in 26 months, with a minimum requirement of nearly 1800 hours of supervised clinical practice. 

Physician assistants may have a great deal of autonomy in practicing medicine yet the profession values a team-based approach to patient care. Although P.A.'s have their own license, they always practice medicine with physician supervision. This team model is an efficient way to provide high-quality medical care. In rural areas, P.A.'s may be the only health care providers onsite, collaborating with physicians via telecommunication. 

The OHSU Physician Assistant Program was established in 1995 with the mission of preparing physician assistants to provide primary care services to rural and urban medically-underserved communities. The program graduated its first class in September 1997. 

In the spring of 2001, the P.A. Program became a free-standing division within the OHSU School of Medicine. The OHSU P.A. Program ranks 5th among graduate-level physician assistant programs in the nation, according to the 2015 U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate School rankings. In the 20 year-history of the program, OHSU P.A. students have achieved a 99.2 percent first-time pass rate for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE).

Physician assistants are important members of the health care team at OHSU. OHSU currently employs more than 100 physician assistants who work in a variety of medical and surgical specialties, in the hospital, intensive care unit, outpatient clinics, operating rooms and in clinical research. 

Thank you to physician assistants everywhere for the contributions you make to patient care and the health of Oregonians and beyond.

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Pictured above: Members of the first graduating class of OHSU's P.A. Program gather for a reunion earlier this year.