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The Heroines of Physician Assisting

Did you know that most physician assistant women make more money than female doctors?

The good news is that there are lots of women Pas. 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. 

Joyce Nichols

Joyce Nichols is the first woman to be formally educated as a physician assistant, but she also happens to be the first African-American woman to practice as a PA.

Nichols was working as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) at Duke University when Dr. Eugene A. Stead, Jr. established his 2-year PA program in 1965.

Nichols learned about the program from a former Navy corpsman who worked with her in a cardiac unit. The program was originally designed to build on the past experience and training of ex-military corpsmen, and Nichols had to overcome a number of obstacles to gain entrance into the program.

She was a woman; she did not have a corpsmen background; she was an African-American; and she had little money to pay for her education—but she was persistent and gradually won the faculty’s confidence and support. She entered and graduated from the Duke PA Program in 1970, and though the curriculum was difficult, her male classmates were very supportive and accepted her into their ranks.

In the middle of her first year in 1969, Nichol’s house burnt to the ground. No one was injured, but she, her husband and children lost everything. To keep her from leaving school, her classmates and the faculty put on a dance, sold tickets and raised enough money to replace her household items and buy clothes and Christmas presents for the kids that year.

In return, Nichols worked hard and was “vocal” about things she felt needed to be changed, especially to improve the education of women in the field. Nichols was a student when the American Association of Physician’s Assistants (today known as the American Academy of Physician Assistants, AAPA) was established at Duke in the late 60s.

As the first minority on the AAPA Board of Directors, she advocated and took responsibility for establishing the AAPA Minority Affairs Committee, and chaired the committee initially. Overtime she became a matriarch and role model for African-Americans and other minorities in the profession.

Before graduation, Nichols met with Dr. E. Harvey Estes, Jr., the former chair of the Department of Community and Family Medicine at Duke University to discuss her future employment plans. White physicians were not sure how their patients would accept her in their practices. Nichols was exploring the possibility of working for a couple of local African-American physicians who had been her preceptors in the program.

Dr. Charles Johnson, the first African-American physician, to join the Duke faculty was one of these preceptors. When queried about what she really wanted to do, Nichols told Estes that her dream was to establish a rural clinic in northern Durham County where she had grown up on a tobacco farm.

Estes helped her secure the necessary funds for what became one of the first rural, satellite health clinics in North Carolina and the USA. She worked there until 1972.

When external funding began to peter out, she and Estes talked Lincoln Health Center, a historically black community hospital and clinic in Durham, NC, to take over the clinic.

Nichols took a job at Lincoln and stayed there until she retired in 1995. For a video of Ms. Nichols working in the rural clinic in the early 1970s, go to this page.

Nichols helped found and served on the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Academy of Physician Assistants. As a preceptor and adjunct faculty member of the Department of Community and Family Medicine, she taught many medical and physician assistant students over many years.

She was inducted into the Duke University PA Alumni Hall of fame in 2002 for her concern for poor people and her advocacy skills, and served as a commissioner to the Durham Housing Authority winning many legal concessions for tenants as a private citizen.

Nichols served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Durham County Hospital Corporation and the Lincoln Community Health Center, and received the prestigious Nancy Susan Reynolds Award for Advocacy in 1991. Five years later, she was named the AAPA Paragon “Humanitarian of the Year.”

Nichols passed away in mid-2012 at her home in Durham, NC. At her funeral, three of her close professional colleagues, John Davis, PA-C, Earl Echard, PA-C and Lovest Alexander, PA-C, paid tribute to her legacy as a pioneering PA-C.

We love Joyce Nichol’s story, and we’d love to be involved in the careers of successful female PA-Cs. Can we help you on your journey?

Sample 1st Paragraph for the Masters Degree in Physician Assistant Studies

I have dreamed of a career in health care for many years. Now that I am finishing up my undergraduate studies in Biology, I am keenly looking forward to entering a Physician Assistant program next fall, 2013. I am fascinated with everything having to do with medicine and I am a strong believer that it is best to pursue the area where one’s professional passion lies. Now 36, I am pushing the age limits for medical school. I feel that I am a good fit for the role of Physician Assistant for many reasons; most of all, because of the sheer joy that I find in contact with patients, the kind of extensive and intimate contact enjoyed by the Physician Assistant.

Statements of Excellence for Masters Degree Physician Assistant Programs

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Personal Statement of Purpose Help for Admission to Physician Assistant Master's Degree Programs.

The Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MS or MPAS) Program prepares students for clinical positions as primary care physician assistants. The course of study usually requires at least two years of consecutive coursework for students who have met the prerequisite requirements and been admitted to the program. Admission is limited and competitive.

 Physician assistants are highly skilled medical professionals who have for over 40 years functioned as members of a team delivering quality healthcare. Working alongside physicians, PAs provide medical services traditionally performed by physicians. These services include taking medical histories, performing physical examinations, ordering and interpreting tests, diagnosing and treating medical conditions, educating and counseling patients, performing minor medical/surgical procedures, and, in most states, prescribing medications. Specific PA's duties are determined in accordance with physician supervision.

Why I Chose to be a Physician Assistant.

Women Physicians Associates OB/GYN PA