The Deep-Rooted Link Between PAs and the Military

The PA profession has evolved significantly since 1967, but the influence of our military brethren and the debt of honor we owe them is not forgotten.

As I sit here writing this on Veterans Day 2014, I can’t help but think of the road both the PA profession and I have traveled over the past six decades.

The PA profession was created to improve and expand healthcare at a time when there was growing and real concern that the considerable shortage of primary-care providers was going to severely hamper healthcare delivery in the U.S.

To help remedy this, Eugene A. Stead Jr., MD, of Duke University, 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.

The first PA class graduated from the Duke University PA program on Oct. 6, 1967.

The PA profession was born with deep military roots, and the rest was history.

I owe my entire medical career to the medics, corpsmen, and veterans who gave so much to their country, and to the advancement of healthcare in the military and in our communities.

I came of age in 1974, at the end of the Vietnam War, without any idea of what I wanted to do with my life. It was a difficult and challenging time in American history.

By pure chance, I ended up as a volunteer on a local ambulance and completed EMT training. One day, I happened to meet Ted Werning, an orthopedic surgeon. Werning was the driving force in starting a mobile intensive care (MIC) paramedic program in the San Joaquin Valley in Calif., following the early example of the Seattle Fire Department and Medic One. Werning encouraged me to advance my training, and the rest was history for me.

The whole concept of MIC paramedics was born on the battlefields of nearly every war that the U.S. has fought. Lifesaving skills and procedures in major trauma are best applied early and close to the scene of the trauma to ensure the injured patient has the best chance of survival and recovery.

I found my calling and purpose in life in the back of “Car 1,” spending four years in the field in central California, where I developed a deep hunger to do more.

The PA profession was still in its early years in 1979 when I followed the path of many of my paramedic contemporaries and entered the Stanford University Medical Center PA program. At that time, the profession was mostly “second career” medical professionals, such as RNs, medics, corpsmen, and respiratory therapists.

The profession has evolved significantly since 1967 in both size and scope, but the influence of our military brethren and the debt of honor that we owe them, remains strong and unforgotten.

It is often through tragedy and suffering that good occurs. While I have never had the honor and privilege of wearing the uniform of my country, I am deeply grateful to my veteran and active duty colleagues who have given so much. Many have made the ultimate sacrifice to their fellow veterans, and their country. We honor them every Veterans Day.

Without those who have gone before me, I would never have been given the opportunity and privilege of serving the needs of my community these past 30-plus years.

So, thank you to every veteran, and thanks to the medics and corpsmen who bravely put their lives on the line to save their comrades. You will never be forgotten by me, or other PAs.

This blog was provided in partnership with the American Academy of Physician Assistants.