Spotlight

National PA Week, October 6-12

PA Week 50th Anniversary

Each year the physician assistant (PA) profession celebrates National PA Week, October 6-12.  It is a time to recognize the contributions PAs make to the medical community and to increase awareness about PA practice.  National PA Week is of particular significance this year as it marks the 50th anniversary of the graduation of the inaugural PA class from Duke University in 1967. 

The PA profession emerged in response to increasing demands to expand access to health care coverage after the end of World War II.  The profession has grown to include over 115,000 nationally certified PAs.  Physician Assistants are responsible for more than 8 million patient visits a week. They conduct physical exams, order and interpret tests, perform procedures, diagnose illnesses, develop treatment plans, prescribe medications and provide patient education and counseling.

Today, PAs work within interdisciplinary teams of other health care providers to achieve that goal of improving health care access to millions of Americans.  From assisting in the operating room to performing adolescent sports physicals, PAs can be found practicing in nearly every medical specialty.  

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the profession is on track to grow 30 percent between 2014 and 2024, compared to the national occupational growth average of 7 percent.  Since 2012, the demand for PAs has risen more than 300 percent within the United States.  There are now over 220 accredited programs nationally. 

Physician assistant education follows the medical model of learning focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of illness using a team-based approach.  Most PA programs require applicants to have prior health care experience and a strong basic science background.  Given the average program length of 26 months, students must prepare for the rigorous, fast-paced education.  They receive roughly 2,000 hours of clinical experience before graduation.

The OHSU Physician Assistant Program was established in 1995 with the mission of preparing physician assistants to provide primary care services to rural and urban medically underserved communities.  The program graduated its first class in September 1997.  In the spring of 2001, the PA program became a free-standing Division within the School of Medicine.  The OHSU PA Program ranks 5th among graduate-level physician assistant programs in the nation in the 2015 U.S. News and World Report Best Graduate School rankings.  The program’s graduates have achieved a 98 percent first-time pass rate on the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) over the last five years. Sixty percent work in specialty practices and 40% work in primary care.

Currently, over 100 PAs are employed by OHSU. They work across specialties in the hospital, intensive care units, outpatient clinics, operating rooms and in clinical research areas. These professionals are essential members of many healthcare teams at OHSU.

 PA students and faculty gather for a community service project

PA students and faculty gather for a community service project

Karen Whitaker Knapp Service Award

Ted and Karen with plaque_web

This award is given out each year in recognition of physician assistants whose clinical careers reflect a commitment to the rural and medically underserved communities of Oregon.

As Director of the Oregon Office of Rural Health, Ms. Knapp was instrumental in establishing the OHSU Physician Assistant Program and in supporting Physician Assistant practice in the state.  For 25 years she has dedicated her professional life to the advocacy of quality healthcare for all Oregonians.  Her contributions have been numerous and will have a lasting impact on health care delivery in rural Oregon. This award was established in her honor upon her retirement.

Previous Awardees:

2016 – Pat Buckley, ND, PA-C
2015 – Kristin Kimmel Schmidtgall, MPH, MPAS, PA-C
2014 – Linell Wood, CHAP, PA-C
2013 – Matthew Beria, PhD, PA-C
2012 – Emily Jacobsen, MPAS, PA-C
2011 – Rob Soans, PA-C
2010 – Stan Ferguson, PA-C
2009 – Barbara Martin, MS, PA-C
2008 – Dave Jones, PA-C
2007 – Bob Davis, PA-C
2006 – Kevin Heidrick, PA-C

Ted Karen and Kevin_web Vale 2006
Left:  Kevin Heidrick, PA-C, from Woodburn, OR, and the first recipient of the Karen Whitaker Knapp Award in 2006, is shown receiving his award plaque from Ted Ruback and Karen Whitaker Knapp.
Right:  The second recipient of the Karen Whitaker Knapp Award in 2007 was Bob Davis, PA-C from Vale, OR.  Mr. Davis was unable to accept his award in person and is shown here receiving his 2006 Outstanding Clinical Teaching Site Award along with his staff.  Heidi Layer, former OHSU PA Program Regional Coordinator, is shown presenting the award.