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Army looks for new physician assistants

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - "My experience with my daughter's cancer scare and having a physician assistant who eased my nerves made me say, ‘I want to do that for someone,'" said U.S. Army Sgt. Jerry Huerta, a San Antonio native, now a medic at the Armed Services Blood Bank Center ??' Pacific Northwest with the 5501st U.S. Army Reserve Hospital in San Antonio.

U.S. Army Maj. Dawn Orta, a physician assistant program manager, briefed Soldiers, leaders and educators on the educational opportunities offered by the Interservice Physician Assistant Program, also known as IPAP, at Madigan Army Medical Center in September.

Orta explained that there are a few things that applicants should consider before applying.

"Research the professions, meet with someone in the profession, and discuss the options with your family and friends," Orta said.

A lot of time and effort is put into becoming a physician assistant so it's important for the applicant to know what they want to achieve, Orta said.

"It is really emotional and about reassuring the patient," said Huerta. "I want my patients to feel comfortable; it is all about customer service."

The applicant must complete a few prerequisites before applying.

Although there are certain academic requirements, the program does not require a degree. Applicants must have at least 60 semester hours of college credit, but they can earn 30 semester hours through military occupational specialty training, the College Level Examination Program, and the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support. Applicants can earn the other 30 credits through accredited institutions either online or in a classroom.

Applicants must also submit letters of recommendation, a letter of intent, and shadow a qualified physician assistant.

"When getting your letters of recommendation, it is important to find someone who knows you," said Orta. "Someone who can tell stuff about you that is not found on your (enlisted record brief) or (officer record brief)."

According to the United States Army Recruiting Command website, IPAP is open to enlisted Soldiers, officers, warrant officers and ROTC cadets in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, U.S. Army Reserves, National Guard, and U.S. Public Health Service. The training takes place at the Army Medical Department Center and School at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

"The packets for IPAP are due March 1," Orta said. "After an applicant is accepted in IPAP they can expect to achieve a master's degree in 29 months."

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