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Physician Assistant Profession Celebrates 50 Years

On October 6, the physician assistant (PA) profession celebrated its 50th birthday. It’s hard to believe that what is now a well-established, 120,000-person strong medical profession originally began as a pilot program at Duke University with just four students, who graduated on October 6, 1967.

The original goal of the new program was to expand a physician’s capacity to see more patients, especially in rural America.


Since that first class graduated exactly fifty years ago, the physician assistant program – born in North Carolina, at Duke University – has formalized, gained acceptance, and spread across the country and the world, with more than 115,000 physician assistants certified to practice in the United States. [source: Christina Cooke, Our State Magazine, Oct. 2017 issue]

What is a Physician Assistant?

A physician assistant (PA) is a nationally certified and state-licensed medical professional who practices medicine on healthcare teams with physicians and other providers.

WakeMed has been a leading employer of PAs for many years. Our first physician assistant was Steve Oschutti, PA-C who was hired to in the early 1980s by WakeMed heart & vascular physician, Dr. Charles Helton.

Interesting Facts About Physician Assistants

  • As ground zero for the PA profession, North Carolina educated the first African-American and the first woman to enter the PA field. (source: “Help & Healing” by Christina Cooke, Our State Magazine, October 2017)
  • PAs practice & prescribe medication in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories & the uniformed services.
  • PAs work in every medical specialty and surgical specialty (50% work in Primary Care & 50% work in Surgery).
  • As of 2017, women comprise 67 percent of physician assistants.
  • As of 2017, the average age for a PA is 38 years old compared to 25 years old in 1967.
  • In 2016, more than 12,000 physician assistants served in the military.
  • In 2016, family/general medicine was the leading specialty employing the vast majority of physician assistants.

Today, WakeMed employs over 100 physician assistants in all specialty areas – from hospital medicine to cardiac surgery to primary care.

“When I became a PA in the early 1980’s, there were fewer than 10,000 of us nationwide. Now, we number more than 120,000 and work in all medical specialties,” commented Jeff Lamphere, PA, executive director, Advanced Practice Providers.

WakeMed fosters an environment where physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners work hand-in-hand with the rest of the care team to support our patients and provide the most appropriate, highest quality care.”

Strengthening PA Programs Via Medical Education Partnerships

WakeMed continues to play an important role in the development and training of physician assistants through our medical education partnership with area PA programs and Wake Area Health Education Center (AHEC).

This work will continue to expand over the next year as we welcome 10 Campbell PA students to WakeMed for their full one-year of clinical rotations.

WakeMed is proud to offer extensive clinical training and education to physician assistants, who represent part of the next generation of providers for our community. The students who come to WakeMed have the opportunity to train in a busy, high-quality hospital and we have the benefit of hosting exceptional clinicians who are dedicated to patient care,” commented John Perry, MD, vice president, Medical Education.

WakeMed physician assistants

Join the WakeMed Team!

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At WakeMed, we employ the “best minds and the biggest hearts” in the business, and we’d love to have you as part of our family.

Apply for a career with us today.