As a combat medic in Iraq, Craig Norris had to decide who could be sewn up and returned to duty and who needed to be sent further along to a physician. Now, as a student in the physician assistant program at Georgia Health Sciences University, Norris finds that experience is paying off.
“Those types of decision-skills were paramount and will be paramount as I further my (degree),” he said.
The university hopes it can help more veterans follow Norris into that degree through the Green to Grad program. GHSU got an $834,000 federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to help veterans enter the program, look at potential barriers to their transition and better assess experience that might not necessarily show up on a transcript.
For instance, many might not have the minimum GPA because college experiences before their service might have pulled their average down, said Dr. Bonnie Dadig, the chairwoman of the Physician Assistant Department. It becomes a matter of taking into account more recent coursework and evaluating their health care work overall, she said. Veterans might also be have health conditions because of their service, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, that can be aggravated by the strain of getting a graduate degree, Dadig said.
“They might need at some times to have different paths to get through” the required coursework, she said. Norris said the program was great about working around doctor’s appointments with him to keep him on track. At the end of the 27-month course, the veterans will hold a master of physician assistant degree.
One reason for having the program is to honor their service, Dadig said.
“The fact is they’ve served our country,” she said. But it also means helping people who already know how to suture a wound or put in an IV create a civilian career out of that experience, Dadig said.
“They come in with a lot of skills,” she said.
The Green to Grad program, which is also open to veterans who are not medics, will also help to diversify a PA program that is about 75 percent female, Dadig said.
“We’d like to have more men in the program,” she said.
For Norris, whose injuries cut short his military career, the 16 months he spent in Iraq weren’t easy.
“I got shot at every day just about,” Norris said. “I lost some good friends, and there were a lot of injuries.”
While he felt he was well prepared clinically for what he faced, it also meant improvising and using what he had on hand. Norris once treated a gunshot wound that went through a soldier’s cheek by using a tampon.
“It actually did pretty good,” he said. “The tampon swelled up on either side of the wound and stopped the bleeding until I was able to get him to higher care.”
It is that type of thinking that could serve him well as a physician assistant.
“What I did helped me be able to better comprehend, understand the importance of what the (physician assistant) job is,” Norris said. “To handle everything we can, to allow the physician to handle what his in-depth schooling and knowledge base allows him to focus on.”