Alfred Sadler, the first director of Yale’s Physician Associate Program, described its early days in the 1970s.

When Yale’s Physician Associate Program was launched in 1971, 28 of the 30 members of the Class of 2008 had not yet been born. At their Commencement in December the graduates got a history lesson along with their diplomas. The lesson came firsthand, delivered by the co-founder and first director of the Yale program, Alfred M. Sadler Jr., M.D.

Physician associate programs have their roots in emergency care, and Yale’s began as an experiment. “We were designing the curriculum as we went along,” Sadler said.

The Class of 2008 reflects the growth of the program in both numbers and scope. Whereas Yale’s first graduating class of just five students left with a certificate in physician associate studies in 1973, this year’s class—like others since 1999—earned a master’s degree in medical science, the M.M.Sc. Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., Ensign Professor of Medicine, said the program was lengthened from two years to 28 months under his tenure, “which is why we’re having Commencement on this freezing day” in December.

Sadler said the Yale program came into being when he and his twin brother organized regional emergency medical services in Connecticut, creating a model that was copied nationwide. Meanwhile, Jack Cole, M.D., chair of surgery, had received a grant from the Commonwealth Fund to start a trauma program within the Department of Surgery. He and Sadler had both noticed that the military had produced army medics competent to treat trauma alongside doctors, and that “these professionals were actually practicing medicine,” Sadler said. The two men then convinced Yale to create “the medical school’s first experiment in nonphysician education.”

Sadler, who directed the program until 1973, spearheaded legislation to authorize physician associates to practice medicine in the state of Connecticut. As inaugural president of the Association of Physician Assistant Programs, he helped develop accreditation standards for the profession and worked with the National Board of Medical Examiners to create the first national board examination.

Yale has since graduated 895 students from the program. Today there are 142 programs nationwide, Sadler said.

At the Commencement ceremony William B. Stewart, Ph.D., associate professor of surgery (gross anatomy), and Shanta E. Kapadia, M.B.B.S., lecturer in surgery (gross anatomy), received the Didactic Instruction Award from students. Gerard J. Kerins, M.D., geriatrics section chief at the Hospital of Saint Raphael, received the Clinical Instruction Award for a clinical rotation site that provides exemplary teaching. The Jack Cole Society Award, for contributions in support of the physician associate profession, went to Paul P. Possenti, PA-C, lecturer in surgery (trauma).

Adam Cohn, PA ’08, received the Dean’s Award for Academic Achievement. Arielle Macher, PA ’08, received the Dean’s Award for Clinical Excellence, and Lauren Myers, PA ’08, received the Dean’s Humanitarian Award.