PA Profession


In the mid-1960s, physicians and educators recognized there was a shortage and uneven distribution of primary care physicians. To expand the delivery of quality medical care, Dr. Eugene Stead of the Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina put together the first class of PAs in 1965. He selected Navy corpsmen who received considerable medical training during their military service and during the war in Vietnam but who had no comparable civilian employment. He based the curriculum of the PA program in part on his knowledge of the fast-track training of doctors during World War II.*


Since its inception, the PA concept has experienced tremendous growth, both in the expansion of physician assistant educational programs and in the increase in the number of PAs nationwide. Since the establishment of the first PA educational program at Duke University in 1965, the number of PA educational programs has mushroomed to over 170 accredited programs today.

Future Directions

As a direct result of the increase in PA educational programs, the number of PA graduates has grown dramatically since 1965. The number of new graduates in 2007 was approximately 4,600. The national professional organization for physician assistants (AAPA) used a variety of scenarios regarding the number of PAs that will graduate in each of the next 14 years. AAPA projects that in the year 2020 there will be between 136,936 and 172,632 people eligible to practice as PAs and between 109,603 and 141,713 clinically practicing PAs. According to the 2008 AAPA Census report, PAs practice in:

Specialty Percent
Family Medicine 25.9%
Emergency Medicine 10.5%
Internal Medicine (General & Subspecialty) 15.6%
Dermatology 3.6%
Obstetrics/Gynecology 2.3%
Pediatrics (General & Subspecialty) 4.3%
Occupational Medicine 2.3%
Surgery (General and Subspecialty) 25.1%
Other 10.4%
TOTAL 100.0%

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the number of PA jobs will increase by 30 percent between 2014 and 2024 (compared to the 7 percent projected increase in all jobs during the same time period)*. The PA profession was ranked #5 for the “Best 100 Jobs” in 2016 and #4 for best in healthcare by U.S. News & World Report.**

Keeping pace with the growth in PA practitioners, the level of income earned by PAs has also shown impressive increases. Results of the 2008 AAPA Physician Assistant Census Survey indicate that the mean total income from primary employers of PAs who work at least 32 hours per week for their primary employer is $89,987. The comparable mean for PAs who have been in clinical practice for less than one year is $76,232.*

*Information from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (

*Information taken from the AAPA website.