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Army PA History - By John Detro

SAPA History -

(by Bob Potter)

During the summer of 1976, a group of Army PAs, stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, saw the need for a civilian organization to represent the Army PA. The first recorded official meeting was on September 24, 1976. A proposed Constitution and By-Laws were adopted at this meeting. These documents were forwarded to the AAPA for approval. Mr. Woodrow Ace, PA-C was notified on November 26, 1976 by Martha L. Wilson, Executive Assistant of the AAPA, that SAPA's application had been received and forwarded to the Constituent Chapter Committee Chairman, Mr. James Konopa, for approval. SAPA was approved as a chartered constituent chapter of the AAPA on April 4, 1977. The official charter document was received on July 25, 1977. The SAPA Board of Directors during the application process were as follows: President-Woodrow Ace, Vice President-Danny Englund, Secretary-Phillip Cordova, Treasurer-Michael Newman, and Student Representative-Michael Williams. A new Board of Directors was appointed in April 1977 concurrent with the approval of The Charter.

The first SAPA Board of Directors, as a chartered chapter of the AAPA, were: President-Rafael Oscar San Juan, Vice President-Robert A. Jones, Secretary-Paul Cephus, and Treasurer-Charlie Mitchell. Committee chairmans were CME-Francisco Bernal III, Public Affairs-Timothy Davis, CONUS Coordination-Donald Mangarelli, and Overseas Coordination-Christopher Luck.

Due to the frequent movement of military personnel, SAPA struggled throughout the 1970's and early 1980's. The Society planned and held a small CME in 1979 at Ft. Belvoir, VA. This initial meeting was well received by all who attended. The US Army Surgeon General, in 1980, indicated that he wanted an annual medical conference for the Army PA. The first was held in Fayetteville, NC in 1980. The first Army Annual PA Refresher Course was attended by about 60 Army and Air Force PA's. This started a relationship that lasted until 1994. Throughout this time, the conference was known as "The Office of the Army Surgeon General, in conjunction with the Society of Army Physician Assistants Annual PA Refresher Course." The annual conference provided a vehicle to conduct the Society's business and have formal meetings in conjunction with the high quality, low cost CME.

The mid-eighties brought new life to the society. This was the latest proposal for commissioning of the Army PA's. During this period, membership grew to over 800. The commissioning of Army PA's began in February 1992. After this peak, the society's membership has stabilized at around 600. The vision of a few dedicated Army PA's has grown beyond anything that they imagined possible.

The first educational program for physician assistants began in 1965 in response to a perceived shortage and maldistribution of physicians. At the same time, many corpsmen were returning from the Vietnam War, who were well trained to address trauma and surgical conditions. Dr. Eugene Stead, chairman of the Department of Medicine at Duke University, established a two-year program to formally educate “physician assistants” in order to address the health care delivery issues of the time. The education model was based in part on his experience of fast-track training of doctors during World War II and on his work developing a new curriculum for undergraduate medical education.  In the fall of 1965, four ex-Navy corpsmen began their education at Duke University under Dr. Stead’s direction. The physician assistant, who was initially viewed as a physician substitute, was trained to provide medical care to rural and other medically underserved populations with physician supervision.

The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), the Association of PA Programs and the National Commission on the Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) created a document which outlines the Competencies of the Physician Assistant Profession. Educated in the medical model, a PA is defined by the AAPA as "a health professional who practices medicine with the supervision of a licensed physician." Physician utilization of physician assistants creates a unique health care team dedicated equally to:
  • Increasing accessibility to high quality health care
  • Providing comprehensive health care services
  • Maintaining an atmosphere of caring and trust between the patient, the family, and the health care team
  • Improving the continuity of patient care within the health care system
The PA is distinguished from other health care professionals by his education as a generalist, by the breadth of his clinical knowledge, by the extent to which he is given decision-making authority regarding patient care, diagnosis, and treatment, and by the depth of his clinical experience.

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