FORT IRWIN, Calif. — The Fort Irwin community and Weed Army Community Hospital (WACH) celebrated Physician Assistant (PA) week Oct. 5 with a luncheon and cake ceremony, calling attention to the importance of the profession to the Army’s mission.
PAs are nationally certified and state-licensed medical professionals who are certified in general medicine and are trained to make diagnostic and therapeutic decisions. They work in nearly all specialties and are trusted healthcare providers in the United States. They were recognized as primary care providers for the first time by the Affordable Care Act in 2010, which also empowered them to lead patient-centered medical teams.
The PA profession started 50 years ago when a shortage of primary care physicians across the country was identified as problematic, largely due to increased demand from the military medical corps. Dr. Eugene A. Stead Jr. selected four Navy Hospital Corpsmen with considerable medical training for the first PA program, and the inaugural PA class graduated from Duke University on Oct. 6, 1957. The curriculum paralleled programs used to fast track physicians during World War II. Over the next several years, new programs developed, an accreditation process began, and PAs started to fill the shortage of healthcare providers across the country. Today, there are approximately 120,000 certified PAs practicing the art of medicine in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.
The Air Force and Army began separate PA programs in 1971, and combined with the Navy and Coast Guard in 1996 to form one, joint-services PA program. The Interservice Physician Assistant Program (IPAP) is the largest of approximately 181 accredited PA programs across the United States. The program graduates approximately 180 PAs each year, totaling nearly 3,000 graduates since its inception. Applicants to IPAP represent all specialty areas in the military, from both the officer and enlisted ranks.
Army PAs currently work at all echelons of care and occupy various leadership and academic positions throughout the organization. Some of these positions include; Hospital commander, clinic commander, consultant to the Office of the Surgeon General, CTC Surgeon, Deputy Director & Chief of Protective Medicine White House Medical Unit (WHMU), squadron provider, and IPAP instructor. They are the front lines of Army health care, serving as primary care providers for approximately 600 soldiers, depending on the size of the unit. They deploy with the soldiers they care for and assist commanders with decisions regarding the unit’s overall medical readiness. Additionally, PAs train unit medics, building on fundamental skills learned in Advanced Individual Training (AIT).
The rapidly changing healthcare industry consistently increases the demand for healthcare providers, paving the way for increased opportunities in the PA profession. The PA profession offers individuals the opportunity to contribute to this ever-changing healthcare landscape and will continue to serve a vital role in providing quality care to all beneficiaries, military and civilian, throughout the military health system.
Those interested in learning more about the PA profession can ask or schedule to speak with one of the six PAs working on Fort Irwin.