Recently I have been reflecting on the significance of the date 6 October and want to share my thoughts. The date “October 6th” has significance for many reasons. On this day in 1989 I married my lovely wife and started a journey that continues to this day. Actress Elisabeth Shue, former NFL player and Coach Tony Dungy, and actress Carole Lombard were all born on October 6th. On October 6th in 1884 the Naval War College of the United States was founded, Thomas Edison showed his first motion picture in 1889, in 1939 Germany’s invasion of Poland ends, Pope John Paul II becomes the first pontiff to visit the white house in 1997, and in 1995 51 Pegasi is discovered to be the first major star apart from our sun to have a planet orbiting around it. These are all significant, but the event I want to reflect on is the beginning of our profession.
The concept of non-physicians providing medical care is not new. We can trace this idea back to the mid-1600’s when Feldshers, originally German military medical assistants (“field surgeon” or barber surgeons), are introduced into Russian armies by Peter the Great. In 1778 an enlisted man, John Wall, is assigned by the US Navy as a “loblolly boy” to assist medical officers on the USS Constellation. In 1891 Capt. John Van Renssalaer Hoff, MC, organizes the first company of “medic” instruction for members of the Hospital Corps at Fort Riley, Kansas. Fast forward to 1961when Dr. Charles Hudson proposes in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the concept of "mid-level" providers from the ranks of former military corpsmen. As one can see, our profession has STRONG ties to the military and those who have served.
On 6 October 1967 Dr. Eugene Stead graduated the very first class of Physician Assistants, composed of former Navy medical corpsmen, from Duke University. Coincidently the “Father” of the Physician Assistant profession, Dr. Stead, was also born on 6 October in 1908. During World War II, Dr. Stead develops a fast track, 3-year curriculum to educate physicians at Emory University for military service. This experience provided a blue print for the competency- based medical curriculum developed to educate physician’s assistants at Duke University in 1965. The early days of our profession were hard and gaining acceptance of the concept of a non-physician/non-nurse medical provider was not easy. This was made even more difficult when in 1966 LOOK magazine publishes an article "More than a nurse, less than a doctor". As one can imagine, this article alienated many nurses to the concept of PAs.
Thanks to those that paved the way today we can look back and celebrate 45 years of professional growth and acceptance by physicians, nurses and most importantly, the patients we care for! Our profession continues to grow and continues to provide high quality medical care. I am humbled and honored to be part of this wonderful profession.
HAPPY PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT WEEK!!
Jim Cavanaugh, MPAS, PA-C