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About the PA Program & Our History

The Yale School of Medicine Physician Associate (PA) Program provides a general medicine education, emphasizing experiential learning, research, clinical experiences, and interprofessional education. Since its establishment in 1970, the Yale PA Program has been at the forefront of shaping the PA profession and its contribution to American health care, graduating outstanding clinicians and leaders who serve their communities and advance quality health care.

Students in PA Program receive instruction and mentorship from Yale School of Medicine faculty and graduate with a Master of Medical Science degree.

  • The PA Program curriculum emphasizes experiential learning: full anatomy dissection program, clinical skills training that includes simulated participant experiences, and early clinical exposure.
  • Students develop a strong foundation in research.
  • Clinical experiences are offered within Yale New Haven Health System and internationally.
  • Students engage in interprofessional educational experiences with Yale medical and nursing students.

History of the Yale Physician Associate Program

The Yale PA Program was developed in 1970 under the auspices of the Trauma Program of the Department of Surgery to address the health care delivery issues of the time. The Yale PA Program accepted its first class in 1971. The founders of the PA Program, Jack Cole, M.D., chair of the Department of Surgery, and Alfred Sadler, M.D., created the first PA Program in the United States with emergency medicine and surgery emphases. By the mid-1980s, the program was training students as generalist PAs, preparing them for practice in diverse areas of medicine.

In January 1973, the Yale PA Program graduated its first class of five students. Over 1,400 physician associates have completed their education at Yale. Our graduates practice across the United States in all medical and surgical specialties and in all health care settings.

The Physician Associate

Yale has been training physician associates for over 50 years. In the early 1970s when the PA Program was created, the name of the PA profession and the associated training programs varied greatly. The Yale program pioneers envisioned a collegial partnership between this new medical provider and the physician and adopted the term “physician associate.” The Yale PA Program has retained this title ever since. Our PA graduates continue to be physician partners and patient advocates. Yale physician associate graduates practice medicine under the title of PA and contribute meaningfully to the health of all people and communities.

Masters of Medical Science

The first twenty-seven classes were granted a certificate in physician associate studies. As a sign of the growing influence of PAs in American healthcare and recognition of curriculum enhancements in research, the Yale Corporation approved the awarding of a Master of Medical Science degree (MMSc) to be first conferred to the Yale PA Program's Class of 1999.


In 1971, the Council on Medical Education of the American Medical Association established the "Essentials of an Approved Educational Program for the Primary Care Physician's Assistant." Through the years, there have been several accrediting bodies responsible for accrediting Physician Assistant Programs.

On January 1, 2001, the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) became an independent review commission and created standards to which all PA programs are held. The Yale Physician Associate Program has enjoyed continuous accreditation since 1975.

Jack Cole Society

The Jack W. Cole Society is the Yale chapter of the Student Academy of American Academy of Physician Assistants (SAAAPA).

Dr. Cole was a founder and very important advocate of our program, its students and the PA profession during the 1970s. The society participates in community service projects, secures speakers on various topics and organizes social events.

Jack Westley Cole, M.D. - Founding Father of the Yale Physician Associate Program

Photo by Terry Dagradi
Jack W. Cole, MD

Dr. Jack W. Cole earned his BS degree from the University of Oregon in 1939 and received his M.D. degree in 1944 from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. After completing his surgical residency at the University Hospital of Cleveland, Ohio, he taught at the Western Reserve University where he attained tenure as faculty professor. He entered into the military and served as Captain in the Medical Corps and Chief of Surgery of the 120th Station in Bayreuth, Germany. Upon fulfilling his military duties, he accepted the position of Chairman of the Department of Surgery at Hahnemann University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1963. Dr. Cole came to Yale three years later and served as the Chairman of the Department of Surgery from 1966 through 1986. During that time, he also served as Director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Yale from 1978-1986 and subsequently retired in 1986.

In the late 1960s, in response to an overwhelming need for improvement in the area of trauma care, Dr. Cole applied for grants from the Commonwealth Fund. He was awarded 3 million dollars to support the proposal which was to provide better-equipped ambulances, hospitals and properly trained personnel. As part of the endeavor, the Yale Physician Associate Program was conceived to train medical personnel to assist in the surgical and medical management of patients.

Dr. Cole traveled the country and the world as a visiting professor including positions in London, Saigon and Taiwan, and was twice a Woodrow Wilson National Foundation Visiting Fellow. His involvement in professional societies has been immeasurable. He was a founding member of the American Trauma Society, and he was president of the New England Cancer Society and member of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Institutional Research Grants of the American Cancer Society. Besides his numerous contributions to the field of medical education, he served as a member of the Advisory Committee on Graduate Education of the American Medical Association, and was on the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Cancer Research Institute at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Dr. Cole died June 17, 2002 in Camden, ME, at the age of 81.


Health Insurance and Vaccinations

Students training to become PAs are required to maintain health insurance coverage throughout their training. Students may elect to enroll as members of the Yale Health Plan (YHP), which is a prepaid health insurance plan with facilities located in the center of the Yale campus.

All students must have a physical examination and the requisite vaccinations prior to matriculation. For more details on required immunizations, visit the Yale Health Plan web page for new School of Medicine, School of Nursing and PA Program Student Forms.

Work Policy

Due to the labor and time intensive nature of the Yale School of Medicine Physician Associate Program, students are discouraged from working while enrolled in the Program.

Any student who chooses to work while in the program is expected to attend scheduled classes and fulfill all stated activities of the program. A student who chooses to work may not switch classes, labs, special assignments or clinical rotations to accommodate their work schedule.

If the student’s academic or clinical performance falls below the minimum program standard, the program director may recommend a student’s termination of employment. This recommendation will be made in writing and placed in the students file.

Students are not at any time required to perform work duties for the PA program.

Students are not permitted to substitute for clinical or administrative staff during supervised clinical practice experiences. Violation of these policies will result in a referral to the Progress Committee.

Notification of Students’ Rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) affords students certain rights with respect to their education records. Please review student rights under FERPA.

Yale Policies and Procedures

University-wide policies, procedures, forms, and guides communicate Yale’s expectations of its community members, enhance operational efficiency, mitigate risk, and support compliance.