The physician assistant (PA) profession emerged to utilize the skills of returning Vietnam-era military medics and corpsmen to fortify deficits in the health care workforce. Today, the nation again faces projected health care workforce shortages and a significant armed forces drawdown. The authors describe national efforts to address both issues by facilitating veterans’ entrance into civilian PA careers and leveraging their skills.
More than 50,000 service personnel with military health care training were discharged between 2006 and 2010. These veterans’ health care experience and maturity make them ideal candidates for civilian training as primary care providers. They trained and practiced in teams and functioned under minimal supervision to care for a broad range of patients. Military health care personnel are experienced in emergency medicine, urgent care, primary care, public health, and disaster medicine. However, the PA profession scarcely taps this valuable resource. Fewer than 4% of veterans with health care experience may ever apply for civilian PA training.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) implements two strategies to help prepare and graduate veterans from PA education programs. First, Primary Care Training and Enhancement (PCTE) grants help develop the primary care workforce. In 2012, HRSA introduced reserved review points for PCTE: Physician Assistant Training in Primary Care applicants with veteran-targeted activities, increasing their likelihood of receiving funding. Second, HRSA leads civilian and military stakeholder workgroups that are identifying recruitment and retention activities and curricula adaptations that maximize veterans’ potential as PAs. Both strategies are described, and early outcomes are presented.