HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. --
The 1st Special Operations Medical Group kicked off physician assistant’s week here on Oct. 6, with a breakfast gathering, starting a week-long appreciation for the medical Air Commandos that can often be seen as the jack of all trades in the facility.
PA Week is meant to highlight the versatile and essential job that PAs do as crucial members of a medical staff team.
“I think the question that always comes up is ‘what’s the difference between a physician assistant and a nurse practitioner’,” stated U.S. Air Force Maj. Michael Sweeney, chief of medical security cooperation with the Air Force Special Operations Command surgeon general office. “Nurse practitioners are independent, so they are not required to be supervised by a physician directly.”
Physician assistants, however, are healthcare professionals that provide care under the supervision of licensed physicians. Physician assistants can provide patients with services ranging from primary care to specialized surgical care, they are continuously honing their skills while caring for all different kinds of patient problems and circumstances.
Within the 1st SOMDG physician assistants are spread out throughout different teams to provide care to a variety of patients, these include Hurlburt’s beneficiaries, active duty, flight medicines, base operations and the COVID-19 ‘tiger’ team.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Jessie Huynh-Toor, a physician assistant with the 1st SOMDG is one of the PAs working on the tiger team.
“We started to incorporate telemedicine and telehealth a lot more,” said Huynh-Toor. “We were already doing some of that because we found that it was helpful to our patients in regards to their availability, but once the pandemic hit and we weren’t able to bring patients in, we expanded that capability even more.”
Being able to extend their capabilities due to their versatile training allows physician assistants to adapt to different situations or emergencies that appear in the civilian and military world.
“We’re in a no failure mission and as impactful as COVID-19 has been, we still have to get the mission done and we’re definitely going to make that happen,” said Sweeney.
Other than commissioning as a physician assistant; enlisted, officers, U.S. Air Force Academy and Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets can apply for the Air Force Interservice Physician Assistant Program, which is designed to educate and train members for uniformed medical services.
“I worked in a very narrow career path before, even though it was interesting and exciting, I wanted to feel like I was being directly more helpful to people,” said Huynh-Toor. “I think it’s the same reason for a lot of people, like when you get to the core of why you want to serve, because you want to help people.”
After going through the 29-month training program, physician assistants can follow a wide variety of opportunities in military medical care. Physician assistants can be working inside a base’s medical facilities or can work with operational units wherever they are.
“I love being a PA because they can be the jack of all trades and the master of some,” stated Sweeney.