Duke University's Eugene Stead launched the first physician assistant's program in 1965 to address two problems. On the one hand, there was a shortage of primary care physicians across the country. On the other, men were leaving the military with medical training and no clear way to apply it to civilian life. In 1975, an independent organization called the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants was founded to oversee certification for the profession.
In the '60s and '70s, most PA's were men, but the ratio has shifted. In 1983, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data says that about 35% of physician assistants in the country were women. Today, roughly 70% of PA's are women. Part of that might have to do with the fact that it is more lucrative, on average, for women to become PA's than doctors. A 2012 Yale study suggested that female PA's might end up earning more than women doctors, given the cost of education and the wage gap between male and female physicians.
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