The North Carolina Medical Board is celebrating and congratulating the PA profession, which recently crossed the momentous milestone of reaching more than 10,000 Board licensees.

PAs are the most rapidly growing group of medical professionals licensed by NCMB. Over the last decade, the total number of PAs with an active NC license has more than doubled, from 4,751 at the end of 2012 to just over 10,000 as of April. PAs now account for 17.5 percent of NCMB’s total licensee population.

In 1967, three students graduated from Duke’s Physician Assistant Program and became the first PAs in the country.

When Dr. Eugene A. Stead, Jr., then Chairman of Duke’s Department of Medicine, established the PA Program in 1965, it was the first of its kind in the nation. A two-year course that trained students to practice medicine and provide health care services under a doctor’s supervision, the program aimed to address the problem of the physician shortage, particularly in rural areas throughout North Carolina.

While the initial recruitment was targeted at ex-military corpsmen who possessed some medical experience, Duke’s PA program soon attracted a wide range of applicants, including women and people of color seeking new career opportunities in medicine.

Today there are nearly 100,000 PAs practicing across the United States. The success of the profession during the second half of the 20th century is due in part to the early efforts of PA leaders, graduates, and students in North Carolina. They worked to have the profession legally recognized and accredited, founded the American Academy of Physician Assistants – the official organization for the profession – and were instrumental in the development of certification and continuing education guidelines.