John W. Kirklin, MD Award HistoryTweet
The John W. Kirklin, MD award for Professional Excellence is given to practicing surgical physician assistants, physician assistants or other individuals who have helped promote the surgical physician assistant and is given out only if there is a deserving recipient. It is considered the highest award a surgical physician assistant can receive. Even a nomination is noteworthy.
To fully appreciate the significance of this award, you must review our professional history. The PA profession was first described by Dr. Charles Hudson, Professor Emeritus at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and member of the Council on Medical Service of the American Medical Association. Dr. Hudson described what he called a medical assistant or super technologist in an article that appeared in JAMA on June 10, 1961.
The first physician associate program was started by Eugene Stead, Jr., MD at Duke University in 1965. The first class of four graduated in 1967. In Alabama, John W. Kirklin, MD, an internationally renowned cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon recognized the need for highly trained assistants to surgeons and started the first surgical assistant program at the University of Alabama (UAB) in 1967. Our surgical heritage also has its roots in Dr. Stead’s Duke University PA program where potential students were given the opportunity to work on a plastic surgery ward for one year prior to entering the PA program.
Dr. Kirklin's distinguished career has been recognized with over a dozen honorary memberships within prestigious national and international surgical associations. He is an honorary member of AASPA. Dr. Kirklin is a past president of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery and editor of The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. He was the chair of the Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery at UAB at the time referring physicians were expected to first-assist the surgeon. Dr. Kirklin recognized the need for the highly trained assistants that were graduating from Dr. Stead’s program. However, he envisioned them as an assistant to the surgeon not just in surgery, but also in all areas of clinical care of the surgical patient.
Dr. Kirklin convinced not only UAB but also his surgical colleagues of the need for a highly specialized surgical first assistant as the advancements in surgery demanded more technical expertise. Like Dr. Stead, Dr, Kirklin was a very strong advocate for PAs. He persuaded the American College of Surgeons (ACS) of our value and engendered their support. The essentials for accreditation of surgeon’s assistants programs (similar to the primary care PA program essentials) were adopted by the ACS in 1973 and by the AMA in 1974. He had the foresight to have the UAB SA program involved with the AMA’s Committee on Allied Health Education and Accreditation (CAHEA) that is now the Commission on Accreditation for Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Dr. Kirklin was also a strong advocate for the NCCPA to include the graduates of what would become four SA programs to be included in the NCCPA examination process. If it had not been for his foresight, we very well may have followed the same path of the orthopaedic physician assistants (OPAs).
The first John W. Kirklin, MD Award was given to Charles Watkins in 1986. There were seven consecutive awards given out through 1992 to Jacqueline B. Hall, Dana R. Gray, John F. Byrnes, Jr., Douglas D. Condit, David J. Bissonette and Joseph Cooper. Following a five-year hiatus, Gerald Simons became the eighth recipient in 1998, John Y Lee in 1999, Cathy Dunning in 2000, Clara Vanderbilt in 2001, Susan Lusty, publisher of Surgical Physician Assistant journal became the 12th recipient in October 2002, Bob Blumm in 2005, LaWuan Hance and Diane Jones, co-winners in 2006, Charles Kock in 2007, Dan Vetrosky in 2008, Steve Wilson in 2008, and Roy Constantine in 2010.