ALEXANDRIA, Va., Nov. 11, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The physician assistant (PA) profession was born on the battlefields of war, out of a need for healthcare providers in the midst of a primary care physician shortage in the mid-1960s.
There are approximately 10,900 PAs in the workforce who are veterans, active duty or retired military, or in the National Guard or Reserves—comprising approximately 11 percent of the nation's more than 100,000 PAs, according to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA).
The PA profession's military roots run deep. When Eugene A. Stead Jr., MD, of the Duke University Medical Center, put together the first class of PAs in 1965, he selected four Navy hospital corpsmen who had received considerable medical training during their military service. Stead based the curriculum of the PA program on his knowledge of the fast-track training of doctors during World War II. Today, PAs practice medicine, assist at surgery and increase access to high-quality healthcare, especially in medically underserved rural and urban areas.
"The history of PAs in the military is a proud one," says Maj. John Padgett, U.S. Special Forces (retired), PhD, PA-C, a member of the fourth MEDEX PA program class at the University of Washington and a former Special Forces medic. "There is a deep sense of pride and accomplishment – not only did the profession stem from military, but PAs provide critical support to the armed forces. Men and women have historically worked as medics and PAs in all branches of the military, working to provide tireless and dedicated medical care throughout the world."
More than 100,000 certified PAs practice medicine throughout the U.S. and American military bases around the world, caring for the nation's service members on and off the battlefield as well as their families in base medical centers and clinics. Many PAs who have served in the military credit their time in the service for building their pride in serving others and instilling in them a passion for the PA profession. MSG D.J. Smith, U.S. Special Forces (retired), MCHS, PA-C, says that he realized that becoming a PA was the right path for him while he was serving as a senior medic.
"My training and experience gave me an expanded scope of practice, and collaborating with my flight surgeons made the decision to become a PA a very natural one," Smith says. "The opportunity to transition the training and experience cultivated from years of military service into becoming a civilian healthcare provider has been truly exceptional and rewarding."
Iraq veteran Kevin Lacz, a former Navy SEAL and combat medic, first learned about the profession when he was at Special Operations Combat Medic School at Fort Bragg. "I saw what PAs were doing," he says. "I liked their mobility and the breadth of what they could do, and the training program was appealing. In two years you could become a respected member of the medical team."
After eight years in the Navy, six of them as a SEAL, he decided to leave the military and go to PA school at Wake Forest as a civilian. But his desire to serve his country and its people didn't stop when he took off the uniform. In January, he starts his first job as a PA in orthopaedics/sports medicine at the Andrews Institute, where he will help Special Forces service members rehabilitate from injuries sustained during combat.
Air Force veteran Tim Egan, PA-C, spent 33 years as a PA after his military service. "I became a PA after my military service working my way up from EMT and paramedic." He credits his military service with instilling in him a good work ethic and the ability to make sound decisions quickly. "I learned lessons like teamwork, communication and discipline that were applicable to building my overall capabilities and skills," he says.
"Military PAs and those medics who then go on to become PAs have historically continued to provide unique value for our profession, communities and patients," says Smith. "Veterans bring not only exceptional experience, but also core values of selfless service, resilience, and the capacity to work in and lead teams that is critical to providing high quality care."
According to the 2013 AAPA Annual Survey of the PA Workforce, more than 30 percent of PAs practice in primary care and additional AAPA research shows that PAs with military experience typically practice in family medicine, emergency medicine or orthopaedics and have 18 years of experience. In many instances, they are the sole provider in a medically underserved area.
"Military medics and corpsmen, particularly those in our special operations community, are amongst the best-trained field providers in trauma management. Additionally, they often expand their scope to address common conditions and sports medicine injuries as they take care of the members of their teams in austere conditions with limited access to advanced care in remote settings," Smith says.
The PA profession is growing rapidly, with patients indicating that PAs add great value to healthcare teams. A recent Harris Poll commissioned by AAPA shows that 93 percent of patients who have seen a PA in the last year agree that PAs are going to be part of the solution to address the shortage of healthcare providers, especially as more insured individuals enter the healthcare system.
Additionally, there are several PA programs throughout the country that are specially designed to train veterans to become PAs. Several states including Arizona, California, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Washington have training programs that provide support for veterans.
In addition to the MEDEX program in Washington, Drexel University in Philadelphia offers increased flexibility for veterans during the admissions process, as well as a multi-layered student support system. Georgia Regents University aims to increase the number of veterans in its PA master's degree program by 10 percent to help boost the state healthcare workforce through specialized admissions and study focus areas for veterans. Touro University Nevada also offers assistance for veterans to achieve program prerequisite courses, with mentoring by a PA student and guarantee of a program interview.
Service to the armed forces does not necessarily end at the completion of a tour of duty. Padgett, a founding professor emeritus of the Touro University Nevada PA program, recognized that veterans in his town of Las Vegas were homeless or underserved and in need of basic care. Padgett assisted his wife Maj. Vicki Chan Padgett, U.S. Air Force (retired), PA-C, MPAS, Touro University Nevada PA program director in bringing a free mobile medical clinic to homeless veterans in Las Vegas in partnership with Touro University. Launched in 2014, the mobile healthcare clinic serves the homeless in the downtown area and throughout the Las Vegas Valley who cannot otherwise obtain healthcare.
"The men and women who are part of the veteran community are part of my extended family. I've been fortunate with both a clinical education and many opportunities, and I wanted to use that to be able to give back and continue to serve those in need," Padgett says.
As the PA profession sees greater demand in the healthcare workforce, Padgett predicts not only that more PAs will continue to work in community support efforts, but also that there will be many more PAs in leadership positions throughout the healthcare system. "PAs are compassionate, with a deep understanding of medical knowledge throughout the healthcare spectrum. They are in a wonderful spot to provide help to those underserved and in need as leaders in healthcare and their community."
Founded in 1968, the American Academy of Physician Assistants is the national professional society for PAs. It represents a profession of more than 100,000 certified PAs across all medical and surgical specialties in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories with the exception of Puerto Rico. Since the profession's inception, PAs have also practiced within the uniformed services. AAPA advocates and educates on behalf of the profession and the patients PAs serve. It works to ensure the professional growth, personal excellence and recognition of PAs and to enhance their ability to improve the quality, accessibility and cost-effectiveness of patient-centered healthcare. Visit www.aapa.org and www.pasconnect.org to learn more.
SOURCE American Academy of Physician Assistants