Leading the Way: Stead, Duke and the Physician Assistant Program

This week the Archives honors National PA Day (October 6) by highlighting a selection of resources available on the history of the profession and program at Duke. The Physician Assistant (PA) profession has its origins here at Duke with the pioneering efforts of Dr. Eugene A Stead, Jr. Stead first saw a problem for practicing physicians’ access to continuing medical education where many physicians, specifically in rural areas, did not have the time to seek further training due to lack of clinical support. To address this issue, Stead envisioned a physician assistant to provide clinical support to physicians. An experienced educator, Stead knew that many routine tasks performed by doctors were learned through practice and habit, and could be performed by trained assistants. He had seen this in practice with veterans of the Korean War who had learned clinical skills while overseas but who lacked formal medical education. Out of these threads, the first PA training program was started at Duke in 1965, with the first three students graduating in 1967.

PA Scrapbook, 1991

The Physician Assistant Program Records contains over 56 linear feet of material documenting the development of the program at Duke. Included are photographs, administrative records, scrapbooks, and audiovisual materials. The image to the right shows one of the scrapbooks available for research. This scrapbook commemorates the 25th anniversary of the PA program and won first prize in the AAPA/ICI Pharmaceuticals Public Education “Scrapbook Competition” in 1991. 


Among our digital collections is the PAHx Digital Repository. This online collection contains over 3,000 items from the DUMC Archives and PA History Society’s special collections. The materials are grouped chronologically and feature correspondence, photographs, publications, reports, and cartoons. 


Also available for research is the Eugene A. Stead Papers. Included in thisDr. Eugene A. Stead collection are correspondence, writings, audio tapes and photographs. Dr. Stead (pictured left) was heavily involved in the education and training of medical professionals and this is reflected in his papers. Of particular interest in this collection is the oral history interviews Stead did with Archives staff. The interviews provide a reflective look at PA history from the man who founded it.


Please contact the Archives with questions or for access to these materials.