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Veterans in Drexel's PA Program Continue Longstanding Military Connection for the Profession

December 8, 2015

The physician assistant (PA) profession is deeply rooted in the military with ties dating back to 1965 – the year the nation’s first “physician assistant” educational program was inaugurated at Duke University. The Program accepted four former Navy medical corpsmen. Other veterans were inspired by this potential career path, thanks in part to a Reader’s Digest article about careers in health care noting the PA profession and a White House Conference on Health that same year that discussed the use of former military corpsmen/medics as “assistant medical officers,” and inquiries began to flood.
The PA profession remains a well-suited choice for many veterans, some of whom have years of hands-on medical experience in combat under their belt prior to beginning the next phase of their lives as civilians. Reflecting on Veteran’s Day, two second-year PA students at Drexel tell their stories.
Dennis Asay, a former Navy Corpsman, was a field medical service technician during his service. After he decided to switch gears and pursue a health care education instead of the business education he was getting at the time, Asay decided the military was the best path for him. “The tuition benefits of the military appealed to me. I went in open to anything, and I chose Navy Corpsman,” he said.
For his service, Asay received the Non Commissioned Officers Association Navy Vanguard Award. An article announcing his recognition in the Fall 2011 NCOA Journal states that over the course of a three-week period “…Dennis Asay was involved in three separate engagements saving the lives of four Marines while under direct enemy fire.” These acts of heroism included rendering medical aid following an explosion; exposing himself to fire to assess and treat a Marine suffering a chest wound; and rendering life-saving care and successful evacuations of wounded Marines.
When asked if his experience as a Navy Corpsman has prepared him for his work in the PA profession, Asay said, “My time overseas was mainly focused around a lot of combat. You’re working on small teams with your friends, so it’s hard to compare. But on that note, it’s also a much deeper level when you’re charged with applying that care to people you already know and care about.”
Michael Rigatti is also a former Navy Corpsman, who spent six years in active duty. During part of that time, he served a role that allowed him to carry out work similar in nature to that of a PA. He credits this experience with giving him confidence. “Being a Corpsman gives you the confidence that you’ve taken care of patients in the past and you can do it again,” said Rigatti. “I’m fortunate to have had that opportunity in the Navy – it’s made me much more comfortable as a future PA.”
Both Rigatti and Asay agree that their military experience and perspectives as veterans helped solidify their career choice. “My experience in field trauma and the other medical experience I had from back in the states with clinical hours, combined with working with PAs and MDs, seeing how each operated and talking with those who were directly supervising me, I felt like the PA profession was right for me,” said Asay, who also noted that he would consider the possibility of working on military bases after he completes the PA Program. “If the option presents itself, I would definitely take it.”
“I chose the medical field, because I wanted an opportunity that would afford me some career possibilities in the civilian sector,” said Rigatti. According to Asay, this is an issue for many veterans who find themselves without options or unsure of what career to pursue, despite the fact that they have hands-on experience that’s directly related to a number of civilian professions.
As a veteran, Rigatti continues to volunteer, giving back to other veterans. “I instruct group kayaking with a group called Team River Runner. Whenever I’m on break (from PA school), I volunteer my time to help support other wounded warrior veterans.”
From all of us at the College and Nursing and Health Professions, in the spirit of Veterans Day, we’d like to thank Dennis, Michael and all of the other veterans among our students, staff and faculty members for their bravery and service.