5 PAs Who Helped Shape AAPA’s Minority Affairs Committee

Making an impact on the PA profession since 1968

February 1, 2024

Prentiss Lee Harrison, John Davis, Joyce Nichols, Earl Echard, and Steve Turnipseed are names that every PA should be familiar with. Together, they worked closely to establish and support AAPA’s Minority Affairs Committee, and helped shape the PA profession we know today.

Prentiss Harrison with patient; courtesy of the Duke University Medical Center Archives

The short summaries below only encompass a fraction of their accomplishments, and AAPA strongly encourage you to visit the Physician Assistant History Society to learn more about the PAs who put their stamp on history.

Prentiss Lee Harrison, PA-C, was the nation’s first African American PA and a pioneer of the profession. After years of caring for patients with general medical problems, he focused his efforts on caring for those with HIV. This eventually led to his interest in pain management. Even while busy caring for his patients and researching, he always found time to precept students enrolled in Texas PA programs and talked to them about issues in clinical practice. In 2004, Harrison opened the I-10 Family Clinic in an underserved community in East Houston, Texas and acted as the chief operations officer up until his retirement. In 2009, Harrison was named Distinguished Alumnus of the Duke PA Program for his countless contributions to the PA Profession and upon his death in 2018, the PA Foundation renamed the African Heritage PA Caucus Scholarship in his honor. Learn more about Prentiss Lee Harrison >>

Joyce Nichols and Steve Turnipseed during a Minority Affairs Committee Meeting, 1975; courtesy of the PA History Society

Joyce Nichols, PA, was the first woman and the first African American woman to formally be educated as a PA. Despite the obstacles Nichols faced gaining admission into a PA program, she gradually gained respect and support from the faculty and her male classmates. Overtime she became a leader and role model for other minorities in the PA profession and became the first minority to serve on the AAPA Board of Directors. Nichols received several awards for her work in advocacy, including the prestigious Nancy Susan Reynolds Award in 1991, and was named the AAPA Paragon “Humanitarian of the Year” in 1996. Seven years after she retired, in 2002, she was inducted into the Duke University PA Alumni Hall of Fame. To honor Nichols, who was a pioneer for tenants’ rights and Durham’s first African American PA, The Durham Housing Authority and development partner Laurel Street Residential opened a new, affordable housing complex for seniors, “The Joyce,” in 2023. Read more about Joyce Nichols’ story >>

Steven Turnipseed is speaking at the 1975 AAPA conference; courtesy of the PA History Society

Steven Turnipseed, MPH, PA-C, was a pioneering leader in the PA profession and a founding member of the Board of Directors for AAPA and AAPA’s African American Caucus. Turnipseed received numerous awards and recognition throughout his career for his outstanding practice and leadership. In 1986, he was inducted into the PA Hall of Fame for being one of 20 “founding PAs” in the profession. He was a driving force in advancing PA education and consulted PA programs across several states. While serving on the faculty of the Stonybrook University PA Program in New York, he received the rank of assistant professor, one of the first ever PAs to do so. In his remaining years, up until his death in 2022, Turnipseed continued his work in primary care. Learn more about Steven Turnipseed’s impact >>

John Davis, PA, DFAAPA; courtesy of the PA History Society

John Davis, PA, DFAAPA, was among the first African Americans to serve on the AAPA Board of Directors and has represented the Tennessee Academy of PAs in the AAPA House Of Delegates for more than 20 years. He has received numerous awards for his service, including AAPA Public Education Achievement Award in 1994, the Outstanding Service Award from the Department of Veteran Affairs in 1995, and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Duke University PA Program in 1999. He also assisted in establishing the first PA Program in the west Tennessee, Memphis area, where he currently serves as an assistant professor. He also currently acts as the Director of Clinical Education at the PA program at Christian Brothers University. Over the years, as a member and Vice President of the Memphis Chapter of the National Lupus Foundation, Davis has taught health education classes on topics such as lupus, hypertension, and AIDS prevention to church and community groups. Learn more about John Davis >>

Echard pictured with a colleague; courtesy of the PA History Society

Earl Echard, PA-C, has worked with patients in homeless shelters, housing projects, and prisons since graduating from Duke’s PA program in 1973. He has chaired and served on numerous state and national committees, and is a co-founder and member of the North Carolina Academy of Physician Assistants. He has also served on a number of AAPA committees, including the Continuing Medical Education (CME) Committee, the Nominating Committee, and as chairman of the Minority Affairs Committee. In 1995, Echard was recognized by AAPA for his work with the Minority Affairs Committee and received a special award of appreciation for his tireless work to enhance diversity in the PA profession. And in 2004, he was named Outstanding PA of the Year by AAPA. Learn more about Earl Echard >>

For more information on these PAs and others like them, please visit the Physician Assistant History Society.

AAPA’s Minority Affairs committee existed for over 25 years and in 2021 the Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion was formed to continue on and address this important work.

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