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Drexel’s PA Program Returns to its Roots

October 15, 2012 — The Physician Assistant profession developed during the 1940s when United States military personnel returned from World War II with hands-on medical experience in the field but without a formal education or degree that would allow them to practice on civilians. The first PA curriculum was created by Dr. Eugene Stead, Jr. of Emory University in 1942, though after it was approved by an academic committee, the curriculum was implemented at Duke University’s Medical Center in 1965. When the first four Physician Assistants graduated on October 6, 1967, Duke University hosted a national conference to bring organization and standardization of program curricula to the PA profession. Years later, to commemorate this milestone in Physician Assistant history, October 6 was coined “National PA Day” by the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA).

Established in 1971 at Hahnemann University, the Physician Assistant Program of the Drexel College of Nursing and Health Professions is the oldest program of its kind in the city of Philadelphia. The program is dedicated to providing exceptional hands-on education for its students and remains connected to the tradition that the profession is rooted in by training both veterans and active military personnel.

“The PA profession developed when men came back from the war with medical skills from the field but without a degree to practice on civilians. The first PAs were male, second career veterans,” said Adrian Banning, a clinical instructor in the PA Department. Today, the average Physician Assistant student in the United States is an early-20s female who transitions directly from her undergraduate institution to an accredited Physician Assistant program, sometimes taking a year or two in-between to do community service work. “That’s great,” Adrian continued, “But now especially with many veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with so much medical knowledge and experience, we should bring them to the profession so that we can share knowledge bases.”

Several of the PA Department’s faculty members are part of a regional work group that discusses veteran PA training and works to develop recruiting strategies to draw veterans and members of the military to the profession. “There should be cohesive resources available to strengthen the profession,” Adrian said. “Instead of individualized efforts to include veterans, there should be some collective effort.” The PA Program at the College educates veterans, members of the military with ongoing reserve commitments, as well as students who have signed on to serve in the military after they graduate. Drexel University as a whole is what’s known as a yellow ribbon school, meaning that Drexel will match military funding for tuition. The University also has an Office of Veteran Services where veteran students can go to receive assistance with their transition into academia. Adrian said that PA students who enter the program after military service often use this resource. Finally, our PA Program is unique in that it offers a part-time option, an alternative that is particularly valuable for military personnel with ongoing commitments and families to care for who need flexibility in order to complete the program and earn the degree.

“Our veteran students contribute to the classroom a lot because they bring maturity and discipline. Especially for the very young students, the veterans bring clinical and practical background knowledge that benefits everyone in the classroom. The veterans are also an example of professionalism; they act as role models and we value the service they’ve given to our country,” said Dr. Daniela Livingston, an assistant clinical professor in the PA Department.

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