When graduates of Emory's award-winning Physician Assistant (PA) program gather to recognize National PA Week, hurricanes Rita and Katrina will be a major topic of conversation. They will not just discuss the hurricanes as observers. Many graduates of Emory's PA program will share their personal stories as medical responders.
"It's no surprise that many Emory PA alumni were involved in the medical response to Katrina and Rita," says Allan Platt, PA-C, co-coordinator of the PA program's Career Masters in Medical Science in the Emory School of Medicine Department of Family and Preventive Medicine. "Emory's PA program is recognized nationally for training smart, independent clinicians who can think on their feet -- the kind of people who know how to respond in emergencies."
A number of alumni in private practice saw evacuees from the Gulf Coast states in their offices, and many others served the medical needs of evacuees in shelters across metro Atlanta. At least one graduate was part of a disaster medical response team that went to New Orleans, and Julie Jacobson, PA-C, MMSc, a 1999 Emory PA graduate, helped evaluate evacuees when they landed at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta.
Ms. Jacobson is a cardiology PA at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Atlanta. During an emergency, like Katrina and Rita, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) activates the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) to relocate medically fragile victims from disaster areas. When NDMS is activated, clinicians from the local VA hospital evaluate the evacuees' conditions, and decide whether they should go to a shelter or receive care at a local hospital.
"I needed everything I learned at Emory about patient care and being a 'thinking' clinician when I saw patients at Dobbins," she says. "We could not depend on technology. We had to be efficient and accurate."
Even in this stressful situation, Ms. Jacobson's Emory training helped keep her focused on the human element of patient care. "One older women was sitting quietly, waiting to be evaluated," explains Ms. Jacobson. "I sat next to her, and said, 'I'm Julie Jacobson.' She just said, 'Thank you.' The smallest things make a huge difference."
"What makes our program unique is the emphasis we put on serving traditionally underserved populations," explains Mr. Platt. "We attract students who want to make a difference."
One of the nation's first PA programs, Emory's Physician Assistant Program graduated its first class of 31 in 1971. In 1990, the program expanded to offer a Masters of Medical Science degree. The mission of the Emory PA program has always been to provide care to underserved patient populations. Today the PA program has over 400 clinical sites including the Good Samaritan Health Clinic and the South Georgia Farmworker Health Project, and it is ranked third in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. Each year approximately 50 students are accepted into Emory's PA program. Graduates of the 28-month masters degree program consistently have class averages near the top of the range on the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE).
National PA week is October 6 - 12. To learn more about physician assistants, visit the American Academy of Physician Assistants at www.aapa.org. To learn more about Emory PA program, visit www.EmoryPA.org.