Women’s History Month

The PA profession has had an abundance of strong ladies that have helped made the profession great.

Joyce Nichols was the first female PA. She graduated from the Duke PA program in 1970. She had applied to the program three times prior to her acceptance. She was originally denied because she was not a military corpsman, she had children, and she was a woman. During this time in US history, the majority of college students were men, and it was believed that because of the aforementioned factors she would not be dedicated to her studies. She proved her naysayers wrong and went on to have a successful career as a PA and as an advocate for rural health care, health care to underserved populations, and for minorities to get involved in the medical field. Click here to listen to Joyce Nichols’ Oral History

Suzanne Greenberg was the first woman and non-physician to help start and direct a physician assistant program, Northeastern University. She served as secretary and treasurer for the American Registry of Physicians’ Associates Association and then continued those roles with the Association of Physician Assistant Programs (now PAEA).  Greenberg was elected president of the APAP in 1988. She has also been recognized as the longest serving program director, having served 35 years when she stepped down from the Northeastern University PA program in 2006. To learn more about Suzanne Greenberg, please visit her biography page

Judith Willis was the first woman to be elected president of the AAPA. Willis had to worked extra hard to prove herself as a devoted PA student and to be accepted into a PA program because it was believed that a woman with young children would not be able to focus on her studies. Willis graduated from Western Michigan University’s PA program in 1976 and went on to play pivotal roles in the Michigan Association of Physician Assistants and the AAPA. She also was appointed Director, Office of Research and Demonstrations at the then Health Care Finance Administration in Washington, DC from 1986-1987.  In 1988 Willis assumed the newly created position of Director of Research at AAPA. Willis was responsible for developing the AAPA new Research Division and other research activities associated with the PA profession and practice. To learn more about Judith Willis’ career visit her biography or listen to her oral history

COL Pauline Gross is the second woman PA to receive the rank of Colonel  in the Army and has a collection of “firsts” in her career. She was the first female PA to be deployed to Palmerola Air Force Base in Honduras, the first PA to be a Clinic Officer in Charge in South Korea, the first PA assigned to the US Army Recruiting Command and the first PA to be the installation management command surgeon for the US Army. COL Gross was also instrumental in the founding and development of the Interservice Physician Assistant Program. To learn more about COL Gross, visit her biography page or listen to her oral histories [1], [2]

Karen Bass is the first PA to be elected to the US House of Representatives. She was first elected in 2010 and continues to serve today. Representative Bass  has the distinction of being the first African American woman to be elected Speaker of the California House and before that, the first PA to be hired in the Emergency Department at the LSU Medical Center. Prior to her political appointments, Bass was an active member in the AAPA African Heritage Caucus and Project Access. She has also taken part in numerous activism groups, such as the Community Coalition in South L.A. which has helped thousands of African American and Latino residents. To learn more about Karen Bass, please visit her biography page and watch a video from her 1990 Project Access speech

For more inspiring stories of the contributions women have made to the PA  profession, please visit our Biographies and Oral Histories pages, and the PAHx’s Vimeo page.


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