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As the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants (SDPA) celebrates 25 years, it seems appropriate that we take some time to reflect on our society’s inception and history. The SDPA began from an idea and a dream of a dermatology PA, Joe Monroe, who at the time was not even aware if there were any other PAs working in dermatology. Much has changed over 25 years, but our mission remains the same.

The PA profession began when the first class graduated from Duke University’s PA program on October 6, 1967. The profession was created to improve and expand healthcare in recognition of the shortage of primary care physicians.1 Similar to their physician colleagues, data reveals that PAs are increasingly practicing outside of primary care.2 Prior to the early 1990s, it was uncommon to encounter a specialty PA. Constituent organizations began to form within the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) for these specialty organizations.

Joe Monroe began to wonder just how many dermatology PAs there were in the country. Ads were placed in PA journals requesting responses from dermatology PAs throughout the US. Only a few responses were received. A total of six dermatology PAs were initially identified from this inquiry. Communication rapidly ensued about forming a specialty organization for dermatology PAs. Initially this organization was called PAs in Dermatology (PAD).

In 1993, Joe and his wife, Mary Monroe, went to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) conference. PAs were only allowed to attend the AAD as “office staff” at this time. They were not allowed to participate in the academic sessions but could observe and see who was there and had access to the attendance roster. Those without credentials after their name were contacted through a message service requesting a call back at Joe and Mary’s hotel room. Since PAs were not allowed in the exhibit hall, a sign was displayed on the side of a briefcase outside the exhibit hall reading, “We’re Dermatology PAs—Are you one? Do you need one?” This not only identified a few additional PAs but also that dermatologists were showing an interest in dermatology PAs. Joe remembers one pretending to hand him a credit card and saying, “I’ll take three!” It was evident at this time that the organization needed to be inside the exhibit hall as an exhibitor to collect names and numbers and to educate dermatologists about dermatology PAs and to promote the profession.

With a dozen or so dermatology PAs identified, a target date of 1994 was set to hold the first ever PAD meeting in New Orleans, in conjunction with the AAD conference, at the Embassy Suites Hotel. The primary goal of the meeting was the desire for everyone to meet and talk about the practice of dermatology and to share patient cases. One of the first things that happened was a unanimous vote to change the name from PAD to the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants. This is how the SDPA was formed and officially named. The current SDPA logo was created by the late James Sotack, Jr., who had also served terms as SDPA president.

The SDPA was officially recognized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a tax-exempt corporation on August 17, 1994. Industry sponsorship was obtained to exhibit at the AAD. Brochures and educational information were handed out to recruit dermatology PA members as well as to promote the specialty. In 1994, the SDPA began with 49 members. Annual dues at this time for the SDPA were $25 per year.

It rapidly became evident that dermatology PAs needed their own CME lectures. One of the missions of the SDPA remains to educate dermatology PAs. The idea of the SDPA Continuing Medical Education (CME) symposium and conferences took root in 2001 and became a reality in 2002. The first CME symposium was held prior to the AAD conference in New Orleans with 173 attendees. Due to the popularity and growth of the annual PA symposia, the AAD was not able to continue to accommodate the PAs. This commanded the inaugural SDPA Fall Dermatology Conference in 2003 with 309 PAs in attendance. In 2010, a summer conference was added to meet the demands of dermatology PAs, considering the continued growth and success. Today, both conferences are averaging approximately 500 attendees each year.

The Journal of Dermatology for Physician Assistants, the official journal of the SDPA, was first published in 2007. In 2008, both the Distance Learning Initiative (DLI) and were introduced as additional educational opportunities. In 2009, the DLI received the University of Texas System “Innovations in Online Learning Award.”

Philanthropy is also a long-standing vision of the SDPA. The annual Miles for Melanoma was launched in 2012. The SDPA launched the Dermatology PA Foundation (DPAF) in 2015 to continue the philanthropic goals of the SDPA, as well as to promote research, scholarships, and educational activities to improve dermatologic patient care.

The SDPA became affiliated with the AAPA as a constituent organization in 1998. Approximately six years later the SDPA received the AAPA Public Education Award. The SDPA was recognized as the largest specialty PA organization in 2011. In 2015, the SDPA was recognized for its work on Melanoma Awareness and Advocacy for Prevention. The AAPA recognized the SDPA with the Constituent Organization Award for Expanding PA Opportunities. 2018 brought recognition of outstanding work and valuable achievements in response to the development of the Diplomate Fellowship.

25 Years of Growth

Building from primary care training and experience, physician assistants are trained in dermatology in a variety of ways. Through diligence, dedication, and hard work by many dermatology PAs, the SDPA grew from the original 49 members to more than 3,500 members 25 years later in 2019. The SDPA has grown exponentially over the years in membership, educational opportunities, and professional development. The organization contributes its current success to its past and current dermatology PA volunteer leaders. The SDPA continues to grow and develop and looks forward to the next 25 years.

1. History of the PA profession and the american academy of PAs - AAPA. AAPA Web site. Accessed April 8, 2019.

2. Wright KA, Orcutt VL. Physician assistant specialty choice: A factor analysis. The journal of physician assistant education: the official journal of the Physician Assistant Education Association. 2011;22(2):20. doi: 10.1097/01367895-201122020-00004.

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