From Veteran Medic to Physician Assistant

Physician assistants (PAs) are among the most highly paid individuals with master’s degrees. According to the most recent surveys, in 2012 the annual median salary for the profession was $90,930. The profession has its roots in the military as well.

The first PA program was started at Duke University in 1965. This class was formed entirely of former U.S. Navy hospital corpsmen.

Many universities today still reach out to veterans for their programs. A number of them go the extra mile and provide generous benefits to veterans seeking a transition into a new civilian career.

Georgia Regents University

The Georgia Regents University (GRU) PA Program is ranked number 25 by U.S. News and World Report out of all the accredited PA programs in the country. GRU’s PA Program also has the lowest tuition of all PA programs in Georgia. Furthermore, GRU PA graduates’ board pass rate is consistently higher than the national average on certification exam scores. The class of 2013 achieved a 100 percent pass rate on the PA National Certification Exam (PANCE) on their first attempt. Ninety percent of GRU PA graduates have jobs before they graduate. Forty percent of the faculty and adjunct faculty are veterans who have served in the armed forces prior to their careers as PAs.

In 2012, GRU’s PA Department developed its ‘Green to Grad’ program with specific focus to attract veterans to Georgia Regents University by utilizing the Health Research Services Administration Grant awarded to the GRU PA Program,” said Associate Professor Rebecca Rote. “Our program goal is to strategically advance the physician assistant profession by encouraging experienced prior service military personnel to pursue the PA profession as a second career. We believe increasing the number of veteran personnel enhances our profession by transitioning mature, dependable, life-experienced leaders into our communities, [individuals] who will provide outstanding patient care and who will mentor current and future PA professionals into experienced providers and leaders.”

The Green to Grad Program supports veterans by identifying, recruiting and mentoring active duty and reserve personnel and veterans who are interested in pursuing a Master of Physician Assistant (MPA) through Georgia Regents University. The program is working to increase veteran application submission, veteran interview selection and veteran acceptance by approximately 10 percent. This equates to increasing acceptance of prior servicemembers from an average of one to two veterans per class per year to four to five veterans per class per year.

Green to Grad also works to reduce military/veteran specific obstacles often encountered by current and past servicemembers pursuing undergraduate and graduate level education. The program enhances student education opportunities, encourages student commitment to pursue the MPA degree, and decreases prerequisite course workload by offering transfer credit flexibility for military specific courses completed during a service career.

“Green to Grad utilizes military medical experience and deployment experience in lieu of shadowing experience, medical experience, or volunteer experience if medically related,” said Rote. “The GRU PA department along with GRU’s Office of Military and Veterans Services has identified and worked to eliminate many of the barriers to enrollment that veterans interested in pursuing the PA profession face.”

The consolidation of Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University into Georgia Regents University has provided an additional opportunity for veterans to receive education assistance that is streamlined to support a more efficient enrollment process at GRU. It also allows veterans, active duty servicemembers and their dependents the opportunity to complete prerequisite coursework on an as-needed basis prior to submitting the PA Program application.

“Through this effort GRU continues to develop community growth and rapport, expand the operational relationship between federal and state government installations, and provide an opportunity for GRU administrators, faculty and staff to recognize and demonstrate our appreciation to enrolled veterans for their military service,” said Rote. “This effort has cultivated an environment of mutual respect and teamwork between GRU, Fort Gordon Army Installation, Veterans Administration Hospitals and the Georgia War Veterans Home, who have all agreed to serve in the recruitment and educational activities during the mobilization phase, as well as the PA didactic and clinical academic years.”

In a continuing effort to support the military, the Georgia Board of Regents passed a resolution on April 20, 2012, to waive the $235 institutional fees for active duty military at University System of Georgia Institutions. Georgia Regents University also offers credit by examination and has an online transfer equivalency guide for current and prior military servicemembers to evaluate if their prior military training may be able to transfer into college credit. This enhances the student’s education opportunities, encourages student commitment to pursue a degree, and decreases prerequisite course workload by offering transfer credit flexibility for military-specific courses completed during the student’s military service career.

Moreover, Georgia Regents offers an out-of-state tuition fee waiver to all full-time military personnel stationed in Georgia and to their dependents.

“Dependent children of active duty servicemembers may also qualify for the Hope Scholarship if they graduate from a Georgia high school,” said Rote. “The Army ROTC Green to Gold Division Commander’s Hip Pocket Scholarship Program provides selected soldiers the opportunity to complete their baccalaureate degree requirements and obtain a commission.”

South College

Tennessee-based South College’s Vet-Up Program is designed to offer medics and corpsmen that have provided life-saving health care skills in the U.S. armed forces the opportunity to continue their professional education with the goal of becoming a physician assistant.

The program focuses on adding to the extensive military training and real-world experience these veterans have by bridging the gap between military health care experience and the civilian graduate medical education of a PA program.

“These men and women will have a unique opportunity to continue to serve others as ‘lifesavers then, caregivers of the future,’” said Ken Harbert, Ph.D., MHA, PA, DFAAPA. “Our country is in dire need of primary health care providers and they will be the ‘best of the best’ with the latest emergency medical training that often far exceeds that of civilian trained health care providers.

“These men and women who have military health care experience are dedicated to providing high quality patient care to the citizens of Tennessee and will make excellent physician assistants,” said Harbert. “Our program offers mentorship, advice and partnering with a veteran faculty member to assist each veteran in their path to become a physician assistant. These men and women will have a unique opportunity to continue to serve others above themselves.”

Drexel University

The Drexel University PA Program appreciates that many servicemembers gain valuable patient contact during their service. Navy corpsmen and Army medics are obvious examples, but many other postings allow someone the experience of patient contact.

“We take that into consideration during application. Teamwork is a huge part of being a PA and we also realize that it is a skill honed during service. Our program is a good fit because we look at each application that meets our prerequisites on an individual basis—we don’t only consider GPAs, patient contact or other requirements alone,” said Adrian S. Banning, MMS, PA-C. “We really look at the whole picture that an applicant brings to the table. We continue that individual attention in regards to students of the program as well.”

The student to faculty ratio within the program is eight to nine students per each faculty member.

“While we are the first PA program in Pennsylvania, one of the first in the country and have one of the largest classes in the country, we also have a large and very committed faculty,” said Banning. “The faculty knows your name right away. We get to know you and are there to help you become the best PA you can become. The program is student-centered.”

The faculty has an open-door policy at Drexel and strives to meet student needs. All students are paired one on one with a faculty advisor who they can access as a resource. All students are also paired one on one with an upperclassman student mentor as another resource.

“Our program has 90 credit hours of prerequisites, and while that’s no small amount, we don’t require a bachelor’s degree at this time. Most applicants do have one, but if you were deployed and moving and traveling, we recognize that finalizing a degree could have been a challenge,” said Banning. “In addition, the classroom (or didactic) portion of our program can be taken over two years at a slightly lesser pace than full time. This is a flexible option for veterans. The clinical portion is full time. Our graduates report that they feel they were trained well and we have excellent PANCE pass rates.”

Banning explained that Drexel University is very veteran-supportive and has consistently been recognized for its outreach to military servicemembers. Drexel features an Office of Veteran Students Services to provide campus-wide support. There is a student veteran association and a veteran lounge and email list.

“We’re very proud that U.S. News and World Report recently ranked Drexel as number 12 on the inaugural Best Colleges for Veterans List out of 234 schools,” said Banning. “In addition, Victory Media, G.I. Jobs and Military Advanced Education have each named Drexel a Military Friendly School for 2013-2014. Drexel is also a Yellow Ribbon school, offering financial assistance to veterans-more on that below.”

Since Drexel University is a Yellow Ribbon school, the VA and the university will match the contribution of the government to a student’s education for those who are eligible. Tuition and fees are covered 100 percent, there is an allowance for books, and there is no cap to the number or participants that Drexel will support. All programs at the university, including the PA program, fall under this benefit.

“This is part of the GI Bill,” said Banning. “So while the base tuition is not different, this is a great benefit that might make a huge difference to a person. In addition, we have a great office in Drexel Central that will help you through each step of the financial aid and Yellow Ribbon process individually.”

University of Washington MEDEX Northwest

University of Washington (UW) MEDEX Northwest also has a history of supporting former servicemembers in their PA program. The first class started in 1969 with 14 former corpsmen and medics. The first five classes were all military veterans.

“MEDEX has always included veterans in its classes, and in 2014, one-third of the approximately 2,000 MEDEX graduates had been in the military prior to entering the program,” said Keren H. Wick, Ph.D. “Over the last several years, between 20 and 33 percent of the entering class has been from the veteran (or Guard or Reserve) population.”

All students are required to have at least two years of clinical experience; most have more than this. This contributes to an average age of 34 to 35, which is higher than in most PA programs.

“This means that our veteran students are in the classroom with others who also have a few years of life experience after high school,” said Wick.

MEDEX includes veterans on the faculty, with at least one veteran faculty member at each of its four classroom locations. MEDEX includes military hospitals and clinics as well as VA facilities in the roster of clinical sites used for student rotations.

“MEDEX provides applicant information sessions on or near military installations where we have classrooms and attends education fairs hosted by different branches of the service,” said Wick. “The missions of both the UW medical school and MEDEX include educating clinical providers who will serve rural areas within our five-state northwest service region (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho, or WWAMI). MEDEX also places emphasis on increasing access to health care for the medically underserved.”

MEDEX considers the whole application when potential students apply to the program. This includes grades, but also outlines a candidate’s rural, disadvantaged, or military background. The curriculum includes topics specific to special populations, such as culturally appropriate care for minority groups. Medical conditions that veterans may encounter, such as PTSD and traumatic brain injury, are also covered in the program.

The UW Veterans Center employs staff who can conduct official reviews of the veteran’s status to determine eligibility for the GI Bill. They also offer confidential referrals or veteran-specific counseling if needed. The veterans center serves as a hub for student groups seeking social interaction.

“Veterans can often apply medically related training as shown on the military transcript to MEDEX program prerequisites. Admissions staff screen the military transcript for potential matches with prerequisite courses,” said Wick. “Students seeking a bachelor’s degree as part of their PA education can receive up to 30 transfer credits (from the military transcript) at the UW toward the general education requirements. Students must complete the UW general requirements for a bachelor’s degree in addition to the MEDEX coursework.”

The bachelor’s option will be retired when all PA programs are required to be at a master’s-only level in 2021. The master’s degree option is a stand-alone program that does accept transfer credit (all students take all courses).

The UW and all state institutions allow veterans to use the in-state tuition scale if they separated from a base in the state. However, MEDEX was given self-sustaining status in the mid-’80s, which means that the program does not receive state funds. All students, in-state or not, pay the same tuition. The program retains that tuition, which provides operating funds for the program. MEDEX accepts GI Bill tuition support for its veteran students, and also tuition assistance as allowed by each branch for Guard or Reserve members.

MEDEX has four classroom locations: Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma, Wash., and Anchorage, Alaska. All four locations offer easy access to cultural and recreational activities.

“Seattle’s campus is in the middle of the urban core. The flagship campus of the UW could qualify as its own city within Seattle (almost 44,000 enrolled students plus faculty and staff),” said Wick. “The campus is next to Lake Washington. Major nearby military bases include Naval Station Everett, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Navy Base Kitsap, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord.”

The Spokane class meets at the inter-collegiate campus shared with Washington State University and Eastern State University. The campus is easily accessible just next to downtown. Fairchild Air Force Base is near Spokane.

The Tacoma classroom is on the University of Washington-Tacoma campus, which is located in the city center in a refurbished warehouse district. UWT enrollment is much smaller than main campus, a size that fosters a sense of campus community. Joint Base Lewis-McChord is just 13 miles away, and Navy Base Kitsap is across Puget Sound to the west.

The Anchorage site, in collaboration with University of Alaska-Anchorage, uses classroom space in the UAA health sciences building. Sometimes students remain in base housing on nearby Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Since their start, PA programs have focused on training veterans, and it is refreshing to see that so many modern universities are continuing that tradition. ♦

Last modified on Monday, 18 August 2014 10:27

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  • Issue: 2
  • Volume: 18
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