Celebrating Black History Month 

As educators in the healthcare profession, it is essential that we not only celebrate and recognize Black history but also contribute to the increase of Black PAs. 

Prentiss L. Harrison
Photo courtesy of the PA History Society

For nearly a century, we have celebrated Black history during February. This celebration of 400 years of Black culture and contributions matters now more than ever. While we have honored the lives and legacy of Black trailblazers during the month of February for nearly 100 years, it is necessary to situate the history of Black PAs in this timeline.  

The first Black PA was Prentiss L. Harrison, a 1968 Duke Physician Assistant PA Program graduate. PA Harrison’s legacy of first also includes being the first PA to practice in New Jersey. He then served several populations, including the Native American and Alaskan populations. 

From 2018-2023, we have seen a 69 percent increase in Black or African American applicants to PA programs. We know that having black PAs is crucial. Diversity in healthcare professionals leads to a more culturally competent workforce, creating a more inclusive environment for patients and better understanding and communication between patients and providers.  

Black PAs can also be role models to inspire healthcare professionals from diverse backgrounds. The increase in diverse experiences and perspectives leads to innovative patient care. Healthcare disparities, bias, and racism in medical care are also reduced when a diverse workforce is present. 

As we look to the future of Black PAs in the profession, we must understand the barriers that continue to reroute young Black men and women from the PA profession and face them head-on. PAEA will continue to support programs in their efforts to recruit a more diverse student body.  

We see daily federal and state legislation that challenges our mission, but as we celebrate Black History Month, it is important that we each take on the spirit of PA Harrison by breaking down barriers and continuously moving towards inclusive practices in our admission processes and learning environments.  

As part of your recognition of Black History, I encourage each program to seek out opportunities to actively recruit and retain Black PA students and to educate students on the PA profession through partnerships, community engagement, or networking events.  

With a focus on systemic change and targeted initiatives, we can continue to increase the number of Black PA applicants over the next five years and strive to reach a PA profession that is representative of the population that our students are being prepared to serve.