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The PA opportunity: One family’s history

Amy K. Maurer, MMSc, PA-C

My heart was warmed when my mother told me that my stepfather, Bob, asked her if the PA program would consider admitting a 65-year-old man, meaning himself, as they were driving home from my white coat ceremony at Wake Forest School of Medicine in June 2009. I suspect that he was only half-joking because he was extremely excited after seeing just a glimpse of the opportunities to learn and grow through my PA education and career. As I reflect upon the 50-year history of the PA profession, I realized how close my stepfather was to being among the first PAs who embarked on their careers 50 years ago this month.

(Left, Bob Kendall and Amy Maurer at her PA program hooding ceremony before her graduation on May 16, 2011.)

Eugene A. Stead, Jr., MD, launched the first PA program at Duke University, admitting four former Navy medical corpsmen in 1965. At that time, Bob was 21 years old and planned to pursue a career in respiratory therapy, but the Vietnam War changed his plans. Although he was at the upper limit for age to be drafted into the military, his birthdate resulted in a low sequence number. Knowing that the draft was imminent but wanting some choice as to where he served, Bob enlisted in the US Coast Guard in 쌭 with the hope of remaining close to the medical field. He completed the rigorous basic training program required of all servicemen and women and was selected to be a medical corpsman. In 1966, Bob obtained medical training at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. In 1967, when three of the four Navy corpsmen graduated from Duke, Bob began his work staffing the Coast Guard clinic in Boston, Mass., while preparing to be sent overseas. In late 1967, he was the first medical corpsman stationed in a remote area of Spain known as Estaca de Vares. He was to be the sole medical provider for the 12 other guardsmen and three Spanish civilians staffing the LORAN (Long Range Aid to Navigation) station. When he arrived, he found a sparse clinic supplied with only bandages and aspirin. Shortly after his arrival, one patient was intoxicated and stabbed another one in the hand. Because the suturing supplies had not arrived, Bob had to approximate the wound with tape and was able to achieve a favorable result. Over the next 12 months, he established the clinic through efforts to stock antibiotics, more medical equipment, and even an autoclave.

(Left, Bob Kendall, fourth from right in the second row, with his commanding officer on his right and his fellow Coast Guardsmen at Estaca de Vares, Spain, circa 1967.)

When Bob returned to the United States in 19ȥ, he was stationed in Elizabeth City, N.C., not far from Durham and Duke University and within 300 miles of the PA program established that same year at my alma mater. Bob was honorably discharged from the Coast Guard and moved on with his life by returning to his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.

Bob did not hear about the PA profession until the 1990s. When I heard that corpsmen were among the founding fathers of our profession, I recalled that Bob had filled that very role in his service to our country. In time, I realized how Bob would have been so well-suited to be among those first PAs. My father passed away when I was young and Bob became a part of my life when I was about 8 years old. During those years, Bob told my sister and me stories about caring for an intoxicated man who presented after trying to drink “one bottle of everything” and sustained multiple facial injuries due to repeated falls. The patient could not figure out why the sidewalk kept rising to hit him in the face. He spoke about a different man who presented with a nearly-amputated ear who had been ejected from his car in an accident because he was not wearing a seatbelt. Before Bob sutured his ear back in place, the patient declined his offer of local anesthetic, insisting that he did not need it, but winced and jumped each time the suturing needle penetrated his skin while continuing to refuse analgesia. It took 43 stitches to reattach his ear. He also shared the story about a serviceman who became psychotic and suicidal on a Coast Guard cutter at sea while on a mission to Antarctica. Bob had to work with five other men to subdue this patient for transport back to the United States for treatment. He had to administer chlorpromazine and remain awake during the long return air trip from the southern tip of South America because there was concern that the patient might attempt to jump out of the aircraft. During the patient’s lucid moments, Bob learned that this serviceman had sold back his leave to financially support his family back home and had not seen his family for 18 months. This, along with prolonged periods at sea, likely contributed to his very unstable condition.

Bob was resourceful, persistent, well-trained, and compassionate to those who were suffering. These stories captivated me and helped pique my interest in medicine. My passion for medicine sustained me educationally and vocationally on my indirect route to becoming a certified PA. One’s career is not exclusively dependent on our own volition, ambition, dedication, or intellect even in the United States, the so-called “land of opportunity.” Sometimes, it also requires one to be in the right place at the right time.

Bob is now 73 years old and PA school is most likely no longer an option for him, but he has had a lifetime of diligent, respectable, altruistic work performed with integrity to look back on. Nevertheless, he retains many of the qualities that make a great PA, including compassion, integrity, and persistence. Becausde he never had the opportunity to be a PA, I hope that my work is a reflection of the values he instilled in me and that my vocation brings him a sense of pride for being the great influence and ardent supporter that he has been in my life.

Our 50th anniversary as a profession is one replete with opportunities: the opportunity to pursue the ideals embodied by the pioneering PAs as we continue to practice medicine in the ever-changing 21st century, the opportunity to serve our communities as the best PAs possible as a testament to the fine PAs and physicians who helped us achieve our goals, and the opportunity to reflect upon how far the profession has come since 1967 while framing our vision for the future. Many people who have not and will likely never receive the opportunity to become a PA or another healthcare professional have inspired us on our journey and invested themselves in our lives in innumerable ways. They seized the opportunity to support us, encourage us, and let us know that the work we do matters. In honor of all of those who have made us who we are personally and professionally, lets boldly enter the PA profession€™s next 50 years, serving our patients well and investing ourselves in the next generation of PAs.

Amy K. Maurer practices at Wake Forest Baptist Healthâ€s Family Medicine-Reynolda in Winston-Salem, N.C. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and may not reflect AAPA policies.


Published: 10/2/2017 8:39:00 AM

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