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History of the Physician Assistant

The profession of "Physician Assistants" has only been recognized since 1966. The lack of medical doctors in both the military and civilian health care systems led to the development of the Physician Assistant. In a 1961 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Hudson first broached the subject of the "extern." This "extern" would be responsible for most of the technical procedures and some of the medical responsibilities of the medical doctor under whom they would work.

Dr. Eugene Stead, chairman of the Department of Medicine at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina in 1965, developed the first Physician Assistant program. Using four ex-Navy corpsmen, the two-year Physician Assistant program began. The curriculum was based on the fast-tracking of a doctor`s program developed during World War II. In this program the first nine months were spent on sciences and clinical skills. The next 13 months were spent doing clerkships in a variety of hospital clinics. The final two months were spent with their preceptor learning their professional skills. The Public Health Service at Staten Island Hospital developed one early program. The merchant marines began a nine-month training program for purser mates (the people in the merchant marines responsible for overseeing ships` documentation and customs declarations, as well as medical care) in 1966. At the University of Washington, Dr. Richard Smith designed a program called MEDEX (Medicine Extension) to train former military medics to service areas of Washington State that were lacking in medical personnel. This program required three months of concentrated study and 12 months of preceptorship with University medical doctors.

Today, most programs are 27 months in length with the first 12-16 months spent in the classroom. The subjects studied include anatomy and physiology, pathology, diagnosis, treatment, disease processes, communication and patient assessment.


History of the Military Physician Assistant

The military Physician Assistant program was first developed by the United States Air Force in 1971 under the direction of the Air Force Surgeon General, Lieutenant General Alonzo Towner at Sheppard Air Force Base School of Heath Care Sciences in Texas and was modeled after the program developed by Dr. Eugene Stead at Duke University. The first enrollees in the program were senior enlisted medics. There was one year of didactic training followed by one year of on-the-job training; a four-year payback period was incurred. By 1978, the Air Force had 275 commissioned officers who were Physician Assistants. The United States Army began its Physician Assistant Program in 1971. The school that Army PA students attended was the Medical Field Services School PA program at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The Navy began their Physician Assistant program in 1971 as a trial program and by 1973 the Navy and George Washington University developed a partnership to train Physician Assistants. In 1972 the Navy and the Air Force began training Physician Assistants at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. The United States Coast Guard did not institute their own PA program, but began accepting PAs from the civilian sector in 1974.

History of the Interservice Physician Assistant Program

In 1996, the military services combined their various Physician Assistant programs to form the Interservice Physician Assistant Program (IPAP), located at the Army Medical Department Center and school (AMEDDC&S), Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

The IPAP mission is to provide the uniformed services with highly competent, compassionate Physician Assistants who model integrity, strive for leadership excellence, and are committed to lifelong learning. Our graduates are commissioned into the officer corps of their respective service and take their place beside other military health care professionals in providing medical services to active duty military personnel, their dependents, and retirees.

In 1996, the IPAP at the AMEDDC&S reached an agreement with UNMC that the latter would provide faculty and administrative support for the IPAP. The IPAP graduate earns a Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) degree from the affiliated university.

On behalf of the Commander and staff of the AMEDD C&S, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, we welcome you to the IPAP. As you will learn, we are responsible for the education of outstanding Physician Assistants for the uniformed services of the United States Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security. Our main campus is located on Historic Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in the heart of beautiful San Antonio, Texas. Here all IPAP students complete their 16-month didactic phase of training. Phase 1 consists of basic medical science courses intended to develop a student`s knowledge of critical medical concepts (see Phase 1 curriculum). After completing this portion of the curriculum, students continue with their medical clerkships at one of 22 medical Phase 2 sites across the country. These Phase 2 sites are located at military installations with medical facilities adequate to support the base rotations required to be a successful Physician Assistant (see Phase 2 curriculum). Our Phase 2 Site Clinical Coordinators are responsible for the administrative support and ensuring that clinical preceptors provide appropriate clinical training. This training allows IPAP students to obtain the skills necessary for becoming a physician assistant in the uniformed services. If you have further questions or concerns after viewing this portal, you may contact us at: 210-221-8004