The George Washington University Hospital began to employ a number of ex-military corpsmen with independent duty experience in 1969. They worked in the emergency room, under the direction of a physician. They sutured minor injuries, helped apply and remove casts, administered medications, drew blood, started intravenous fluids, took electrocardiograms, and performed simple lab tests. This experience was inordinately successful. A systems analysis in 1970 revealed that these ex-military corpsmen were accepted by house staff and faculty alike, who were impressed with their judgment and capability. The program was then expanded. The corpsmen were hired into the clinic where they performed functions similar to those established in the emergency room.
The GW Physician Assistant Program, established in September 1972, was built on this successful experience and was among the first in the nation in an academic medical center. This new educational program was conceived to be a partial solution to the shortage of primary care physicians. It was anticipated that these new health care practitioners would provide physicians with technically skilled personnel who could perform a number of tasks previously assumed to be the exclusive province of the physician. It was decided that the physician assistant should be "trained in parallel with the student of medicine."
The GW PA program was founded in 1972. GW launched a joint Physician Assistant/Master of Public Health degree (PA/MPH) in 1986 for students interested in the clinical application of preventive medicine taught in an integrated and simultaneous fashion. There were no other PA/MPH programs in the nation at the time. The GW Physician Assistant Program has had continuous national accreditation since its inception.