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NEWS | Jan. 18, 2022

IPAP graduates newest class of physician assistants

By Randy Mitchell Naval Medical Forces Support Command Public Affairs

The Interservice Physician Assistant Program, or IPAP, recently graduated Class 20-3, the last of 2021, and one that met many challenges due to COVID-19 during the 29-month long biphasic master’s program in physician assistant studies at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.

Rear Adm. Cynthia Kuehner, commander of Naval Medical Forces Support Command, along with Command Master Chief Jason Reynolds, were on hand to witness the graduation. It is the largest Physician Assistant program in the United States and enrolls approximately 250 students per year from each of the services that provide medical care, including Marines.

The students in Class 20-3 completed Phase 1 (approximately 64 weeks in duration) of academic instruction conducted at the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, which included courses of instruction in the basic sciences of anatomy, physiology, chemistry, laboratory sciences, microbiology, internal medicine, preventive medicine, pharmacology, human behavior, physical evaluation, infectious disease, neurology, dental sciences, orthopedics, obstetrics, gynecology, pediatrics, emergency medicine, surgery, dermatology and health care administration.

The new PA candidates head to Phase 2 training of the program, approximately 52 weeks, which places the student/candidate into a structured clinical training environment at one of the various military, DOD or affiliated civilian medical treatment facilities.

Phase 2 training includes rotations in ambulatory care, internal medicine, emergency medicine, preventive medicine and occupational health, surgery, orthopedics and podiatry, dermatology, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, laboratory and radiology.

Upon graduation of both phases, each student is awarded a Masters in Physician Assistant Studies and takes a national certifying examination called the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam, or PANCE. After passing the PANCE, each PA is now “certified” and is able to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician.

Thirteen Sailors and one active duty Marine were among the graduates. The graduates will be placed in primary care clinics in the United States and at overseas locations, with a few going to operational units that are either deployed or deployable.

One of the Sailors that graduated is now-officer candidate Lee E. Boujie, a Navy Master Chief Petty Officer, who spent a great majority of his Navy career working as a special operations independent duty corpsman serving within Marine Reconnaissance and Special Operations. Boujie will now be assigned to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, where he will spend the next 13 months completing Phase II training.

“Admittedly, there are advantages and disadvantages to coming from a medical background, but, the pressure to succeed, mental and emotional stressors are ubiquitous throughout the course,” Boujie said. “My brother passed away while I was going through IPAP, as did two other classmates' loved ones. Nevertheless, IPAP kept going. Fortunately, with us being primarily online, I was able to attend my brother’s funeral and still attend class and test online.”

Boujie found the IPAP program an incredibly demanding program — mentally, emotionally and at times, spiritually that required an incredible amount of sacrifice, focus, emotional intelligence, and aptitude no matter your background.

“Also, no matter how comfortable one might feel their grasp of medicine is, there are multiple subjects and concepts here at IPAP that will challenge not only that command of medicine but your ability to assimilate, synthesize, understand, and demonstrate your comprehension,” Boujie added.

Navy Medicine continues to increase physician assistant billets within operational units in the Navy and Marine Corps.

“This integration of PAs into operational forces can be seen as a welcomed change when considering that IPAP takes prior enlisted, some of which have served within both Navy and Marine operational units for a majority of their careers and require little to no acclimatization to the operational lexicon, tactics, techniques or procedures," said Lt. Cmdr. Lance Beahm, Interservice Physician Assistant Program Navy Senior Service Representative.

This shift in talent management affords PAs and medical officers alike with many opportunities.

First, as was the intent of creating PAs, it bridges the gap in medical providers. Second, this move offers increased billet structure, diverse operational experience, and career progression. Lastly, it affords medical officers the opportunity to see a variety of sick patients (young and old), while keeping their knowledge, skills and abilities that would normally atrophy seeing predominantly healthy 20- to 50-year-old Sailors and Marines, Beahm added.

According to Boujie, regardless of the change, one thing remains clear. Whether you’re a physician, PA, nurse, Corpsman or civilian, the mission remains the same, caring for those who serve.

“To this day, I still get phone calls from old teammates asking me for medical advice for them, a loved one, and their pets or to interpret a study or lab result,” Boujie said.

“To some, this may appear burdensome or even rude," Boujie added. "However, I would offer that it’s when they don’t call, or ask for help, that you should do some introspection and ask yourself, why? And who did they end up calling instead of you? It is a privilege and one that I have had the honor of doing for the past 20 years, both as a Hospital Corpsman, and soon to be, Naval officer and physician assistant.”