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Women in History: Physician Assistants of Note

Women in History: Physician Assistants of Note

Since March is Women's History month, this will be a two-part blog series featuring influential female nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs). Part 1 will focus on PAs.

Joyce Nichols was the first woman, and the first African American, to be educated and begin practicing as a PA. She started her career as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) on the cardiac care unit at Duke University, which was where she learned about the PA program being started by Dr Eugene Stead in 1965. The program was designed for former Navy corpsmen, but Dr Stead encouraged Joyce to apply; she was accepted and then graduated in 1970. She went on to open the first rural health clinic in North Carolina. When funding ran out in 1972, she moved to Lincoln Health Center in Durham, North Carolina and worked there until she retired in 1995. During her career she taught many medical and PA students, was a student when the American Association of Physician's Assistants (AAPA; now the American Academy of Physician Assistants) started in 1968, and was the first minority member to serve on the AAPA Board of Directors. She died in 2012.

Karen Bass is the first PA to serve on the US House of Representatives. She was re-elected to her sixth term in November 2020 and represents the 37th Congressional District in California. She graduated from the University of Southern California (USC) Keck School of Medicine Primary Care PA program in 1982. Prior to being elected, she worked as a PA and a clinical instructor at USC Keck School of Medicine Primary Care PA program—while there, she helped establish Project Prepare to provide shadowing opportunities and resources for prospective PA students.

Saibatu Mansaray is the first Army PA woman to be assigned to the White House Medical Unit, serving President Obama and Vice President Biden as the Director of Operations. In 2017, Major Mansaray retired after 23 years of service with the Army. After retiring, she was called back to act as the Director of Advance for Vice President Pence as a civilian. Recently, she founded and launched The Mansaray Foundation addressing maternal mortality in Sierra Leone and hosts The Saibatu Mansaray Journey podcast. She received her PA degree from University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2005.

Haley Arceneaux is a 29-year-old cancer survivor and will be the first PA, first person with a prosthetic body part, and youngest American to go into space with billionaire Jared Isaacman on the first all-civilian SpaceX Inspiration4 flight. She will serve as the crew's medical officer. She received her PA degree from Southeastern Louisiana University in 2016. See last week's blog post about PA Arceneaux here.

Judith Willis was the first female President of AAPA and Mary Jo Bondy was the first PA to be CEO of the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA).


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