College of Allied Health Professions

Celebrating PA Week: The History of the Physician Assistant Profession

Dr. Amos Johnson (left) personally trained Buddy Treadwell (right) to conduct initial patient examinations and other tasks, such as identifying carotid arteries, Garland, NC, 1967 Courtesy National Library of Medicine

In honor of National Physician Assistant Week, some of our PA students put together some information. They kick it off with a bit of history.

With a lack of Primary Care providers, healthcare was not very accessible in the 1960’s. The solution was the creation of the Physician Assistant profession. It all began with Dr. Amos Johnson and Henry Lee “Buddy” Treadwell in Garland, North Carolina. Buddy Treadwell, Dr. Johnson’s “assistant,” was able to observe all of the procedures that Dr. Johnson would do and how he interacted with his patients. Soon enough, Dr. Johnson trusted Buddy enough to leave his patients in his care while he was off promoting Family Medicine with the American Medical Association. Dr. Eugene Stead of Duke University saw this collaboration and thought it was a brilliant solution for the healthcare dilemma they were facing. In 1965, the first PA program was built on this relationship, and the inspiration of “fast-track” training of Physicians during World War II. From there, the PA profession blossomed. Today, there are 236 ARC-PA accredited PA programs.

The early 1970s were the most formative years for the PA profession in Nebraska. In 1971, Jesse Edwards, a former medical administration specialist for the US Air Force, joined UNMC as faculty for the Office of the Dean with the expressed purpose of proposing legislation that firmly established the PA profession in Nebraska. He viewed the role of a PA as a continuation of the spirit of the initial outlook of the profession: as a way to expand healthcare to underserved, rural areas and as a way to train more providers to serve military personnel. With Edwards as an advisor, the unicameral chartered the creation of UNMC’s PA program in 1972, and officially defined the scope of practice for PAs in the state in 1973. After founding the program, Edwards and others at UNMC established curriculum for PA training for those serving in the military. As a result, many service members who undergo PA training today receive their degrees from UNMC. The early enthusiasm for these new developments did not wane, and in 1975, the first graduating class of UNMC’s PA program established the Nebraska Academy of Physician Assistants, which serves as an advocacy and educational group for the state’s PAs. These landmarks laid the groundwork for all PAs that practice in Nebraska today.

To learn more about Edwards and the early history of the profession in Nebraska, check out the following links:
https://pahx.org/assistants/edwards-jesse/
https://www.nebraskapa.org/about-napa
For more information on the history of the PA profession:
https://www.aapa.org/about/history/
https://pahx.org/

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