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Becoming the Cornerstone of Operational Medicine, 2000-Present

Jed-Juachon Asadabad, Afghanistan, Dec. 2009. LT Jed Juachon, PA and Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team Medical Officer, and a Corpsman meet with Dr. Mohammed Asif, Kunar, Midwifery Program training center

Below is reprinted with permission from the article "A Short History Of Navy Physician Assistants. Part III: Becoming the Cornerstone of Operational Medicine, 2000-Present" by Andre B. Sobocinski, which was published in the March 2021 edition of the US Navy Medical Service Corps newsletter The Rudder.

 

A Short History Of Navy Physician Assistants

Part III: Becoming the Cornerstone of Operational Medicine, 2000-Present

 

This is one article of a three-part series:
Part I: https://navypa.com/navy-pa-info/blog/advent-of-physician-assistants-in-the-navy
Part II: https://navypa.com/navy-pa-info/blog/through-heavy-weather-and-fair-winds-1975-1999
Part III: https://navypa.com/navy-pa-info/blog/becoming-the-cornerstone-of-operational-medicine-2000-present

 

Physician Assistant LT Mark Donald was attached to a Joint Afghan-U.S. Operational Unit in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. On October 25, 2003, his unit was ambushed by Al Qaeda forces. As the casualties in his unit quickly mounted, Donald tried to fight off the attack while tending to the casualties. He came to the aide of the wounded Afghan unit commander, pulling him to safety before rushing to retrieve a soldier trapped behind the steering wheel of his vehicle. Again and again, Donald attended to casualties, carrying them to safety, treating their wounds and overseeing their medical evacuation. He then took charge of the remaining Afghan squad and led them into breaking the ambush. Later, while taking part in a sweep of the area, Donald’s unit came under fire again.

 

LT (later LCDR) Mark Donald, Navy Physician Assistant and War Hero.

LT (later LCDR) Mark Donald, Navy Physician Assistant and War Hero.

 

Disregarding his own safety, he ran 200 meters to render medical assistance to wounded personnel suffering shrapnel wounds in the process. He treated the wounded and coordinated their medical evacuation before attending to his own wounds. For his actions Donald was awarded the Navy Cross and Silver Star. As a medical officer in an operational mission, Donald was representative of the new, dynamic roles Navy Physician Assistants were now filling, as well as the important contributions they were making on the battlefield.

 

At the start of the 21st century Navy PAs were no longer limited to their original roles as “physician extenders” at hospitals and clinics. They could now be found across the operational spectrum attached to Marine units, SEAL teams, Fleet Surgical Teams and serving shipboard. And during the Global War on Terror, more and more PAs were playing crucial roles on the frontlines of the fight. Knowing this it is no wonder that Physician Assistants were the most highly decorated specialty of the Medical Service Corps during the Global War on Terror.

 

Asadabad, Afghanistan, Dec. 2009.  LT Jed Juachon, PA and Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team Medical Officer, and a Corpsman meet with Dr. Mohammed Asif, Kunar, Midwifery Program training center.

Asadabad, Afghanistan, Dec. 2009. LT Jed Juachon, PA and Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team Medical Officer, and a Corpsman meet with Dr. Mohammed Asif, Kunar, Midwifery Program training center.

 

These new operations and increased risk also led to the Navy PAs' first casualty of a war. Ensign Jerry “Buck” Pope was a former SEAL-turned PA commissioned on February 9, 2001. On October 17, 2002, Ensign Pope was serving as the medical officer with a Joint Operations Task Force in Yemen when he was killed in a traffic accident.

 

Since 2000, the Navy PA program has undergone continual growth and PAs have opportunities now that did not exist during those formative years. In 2000 the first Navy PA attended the U.S. Air Force Orthopedic Fellowship, a year later a Navy Orthopedic Fellowship was started at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. Since then new training programs have been opened to Navy PAs wanting to specialize in general surgery, clinical orthopedics, and emergency medicine. And PAs wanting to pursue doctorates can now apply to the Army-Baylor Doctor of Science program allowing PAs to obtain a doctorate in Physician Assistant Studies.

 

In 2016, the Aeromedical Physician Assistant (APA) program enabled PAs - for the first time - to attend Flight School/Flight Medicine training. On September 21, 2016, LT William Grisham graduated from the Navy Aerospace Medical Institute (NAMI) becoming the first Physician Assistant to qualify for wings.

 

LT William Grisham, the Navy’s first aeromedical Physician Assistant.

LT William Grisham, the Navy’s first aeromedical Physician Assistant.

 

PAs still remain closely tied their Hospital Corps heritage. Today, sixty percent of PAs come from the Hospital Corps community through the Medical Service Corps Inter-service Procurement Program (MSC-IPP). The remaining forty percent enter the civilian sector as Health Services Collegiate Program (HSCP) or direct accessions. Civilians who are accepted into HSCP can then apply to one of 254 accredited PA programs in the United States.

 

With over 350 active duty and reserve personnel, Navy PAs represent the largest clinical specialty in the Medical Service Corps today. And in some respects they are the most diverse specialty within the most diverse staff corps in the Navy today - PAs now regularly serve as Marine Battalion Surgeons, Senior Medical Officers, Department Heads, Directors, Officers in Charge, Executive and Commanding Officers at NMRTUs, NMRTCs, BUMED, EMFs, Marine Corps Units, Aircraft Carriers, Naval Special Warfare Units, Aircraft Squadrons, and at the White House Medical Unit.

 

Sources:
- Interview with CDR Owston, Navy Physician Assistant Specialty Leader, dated March 18, 2021.

 - Lieutenant Mark Donald Navy Cross Citation. Military Times. Retrieved from: Mark Donald - Recipient - (militarytimes.com)

 

NAPA HOD Update
Through Heavy Weather and Fair Winds, 1975-1999
 

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