The Physician Assistant profession was formed during the Vietnam War, when there was an acute shortage of physicians and surgeons. It began as an apprenticeship with various medical professionals, such as nurses, athletic trainers and others.
With the evolution of PA’s education, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AOS) decided to support four separate and specialized orthopaedic physician assistant programs. Soon after, the AOS, due to its bylaws, realized it could not continue such support of these programs, causing each program to either discontinue or to become a general PA program. This change occurred over a decade ago, and has left OPAs without a formalized academic setting. They have continued to survive by participating in apprenticeships and are continually supported by their professional society, the American Society of Orthopaedic Physician’s Assistants (ASOPA). They are also overseen by their examination board, the National Board for the Certification of Orthopaedic Physician Assistants (NBCOPA), which uses the Professional Testing Corporation for OPA specific examinations.
Currently, there are some 1,500 OPAs that have been trained in an apprentice-type method. With the demand for formalized education needed for the OPA profession, the University has worked with the Education Committee of the ASOPA and assisted by an advisory committee of physician assistants, several orthopaedic physician assistants and orthopaedic surgeons, to develop the OPA program.