Letters, Dec. 16

Dec. 15, 2012 @ 07:07 PM

Duke program began in 1965

The article in the Dec. 3 Herald-Sun regarding the plans of the UNC School of Medicine to train U.S. Army Special Forces medical sergeants in a two-year master’s degree program reminded me of the beginning of the first-ever physician assistant program at Duke University Medical Center.

In 1963, I was appointed the first clinical nurse specialist at Duke with a triad appointment as a faculty member of both the School of Nursing and the School of Medicine with a new appointment as specialist in nephrology nursing in nursing services of Duke Hospital as a program in kidney transplantation was initiated. Patients had to receive kidney dialysis prior to and in followup to this surgical procedure, and an internist and I were in charge of it. Dr. Eugene Stead, then chair of the Department of Medicine, commented to me that medical corpsmen being discharged from the Vietnam War might have some abilities that could be used under supervision of health professionals, and would I be willing to teach an ex-corpsman to assist with kidney dialysis. I did so, and the first person was Charles Mitchell. After teaching him and several others successfully, Dr. Stead held a meeting with me, Dr. Harvey Estes, and a number of medical internists to consider a formal curricular program for these men and women on a selected basis.

This was the beginning of the certificate physician assistant program, with students first admitted in 1965. The program later offered a master’s degree, as does the current one at Duke.

Thus, it is of historical interest that people with military medical training are again being considered for a special physician assistant program at UNC some 47 years after the initial one at Duke University Medical Center.

Ruby L. Wilson, EdD, RN, FAAN
Professor of Nursing
Duke University

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