Courtesy Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center Graduate Medical Education Department
FORT CAVAZOS, Texas – Coast Guardsmen, Lt. Mary Leon, and Lt. j.g. Ethan Etlinger, will be the first to graduate the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center Interservice Physician Assistant Program in early February here at Fort Cavazos.
The graduates praised the extraordinary dedication of CRDAMC’s leadership, doctors, nurses, and staff for the opportunity and education.
“Without question, CRDAMC is a premier location for the IPAP clinical experience,” said Leon. “As a medical facility with almost 100,000 Tricare Prime beneficiaries within a 40-mile radius, the support and opportunities to excel while learning the ropes of being a well-rounded provider are infinite.”
Leon, a prior naval engineer, added that she chose to become a PA because she aspired to continue serving the people of our nation, while optimizing her passion for healthcare.”
PAs are the tip of the spear in operational medicine and have kept the fighting force ready for any mission and their motto is, “From the line, for the line!”
Students in the program come from diverse military backgrounds and experiences. Their individual experiences influenced their decision to apply for IPAP.
“Becoming a PA is a goal I worked towards the past 10 years,” said Etlinger, a prior Coast Guard corpsman. “I am grateful for the rigors of IPAP that provided me with a study foundation of knowledge so that I may do well by my patients and guide the Corpsman I work alongside with the necessary medical training to succeed.”
The students go through a rigorous course of clinical experience, getting them in shape for their first assignment as military PAs. As they go through each department, they gain vast knowledge from each patient encounter, preparing them to be exceptional healthcare providers. Some of the rotations the students are evaluated on, include the emergency department, general surgery, OB/GYN, ear, nose, and throat, pediatrics, family medicine, orthopedics, and many more. They are expected to manage patients by interpreting labs, imaging, and clinically correlating all subjective and objective findings to create an appropriate treatment plan for each patient. They are empowered by preceptors to use clinical judgment to make medically appropriate decisions to provide high-quality healthcare for the many beneficiaries here at CRDAMC.
After graduation, PAs can integrate their prior experience and knowledge to maintain medical readiness, optimize deployability, and improve overall Soldier health.
While seeing patients in the clinic is essential, instructors also place emphasis on the importance of training with medics outside of the clinic to improve Aid Station operations and healthcare in the field.
IPAP trains PA students to function at different echelons of healthcare, as well as how to maneuver around unique circumstances that are custom to being in the military, such as medical and casualty evacuation.
IPAP students arrive at their respective Phase II site after completing Phase l of IPAP, located at the Army Medical Center of Excellence at Joint Base San Antonio. They spend 16 months completing their didactic requirements and earning a Bachelor of Science. Phase I consists of 101 written exams and several Objective Structured Clinical Examinations, which tests students’ ability to interview a simulated patient, form a differential diagnosis, and develop a treatment plan for any given medical scenario. Students learn physical exams, procedures, and other medical interventions throughout the didactic phase.
Before Phase II graduation, students must meet all IPAP requirements of over 1200 patient encounters, 180 clinical procedures, and 280 hours of patient care in the Emergency Room. Students are also mentally prepared to anticipate the unique administrative, and military requirements that will be expected of them as part of a Special Staff member in any given unit.
IPAP is the largest PA program in the world and ranks amongst the top 15 programs in the nation. It was first established in 1996 when the Army, Navy, and Air Force combined their various PA programs to form IPAP. Today, all branches, including Coast Guard, can apply for this intense 28-month program exclusive to military personnel.
The application consists of a multitude of requirements, including pre-requisite courses, letters of recommendation, a commissioning physical, and more. Upon graduation from the course, students earn a Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) degree from the University of Nebraska Medical Center and must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). The PANCE consists of 300 questions; students are allotted 5 hours to complete the exam. Enlisted students must also attend Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC) to mark their transition to becoming a commissioned officer.
Prospective students who are interested in applying can visit the IPAP website at: https://recruiting.army.mil/armypa/. They can also reference AR 601-20 for full application details. A MILPER message for the program is updated every summer and should be referenced in conjunction with the regulation. Upon submitting the application, students should expect to hear from a representative about their packet before board selection. Board selection historically occurs in June, with the official selection list coming out in July. Applicants can submit applications for the following fiscal year after 1 Oct. every year and are encouraged to improve packets and continue applying if they are not accepted into IPAP the first time.