The very first physician assistants were all active duty members of the military graduating from Duke University in 1965. The program began as a means of quickly training doctors to meet the needs of the growing population after World War II. The University of South Dakota’s current physician assistant program continues to honor this heritage by focusing on the role that the military has to play in its student’s education.
The physician assistant program at USD plays a crucial role in South Dakotan healthcare. The program admits 25 students every year, 20 of which are required to be South Dakota residents. It has graduated 390 students overall, and 175 of those alumni continue to work in South Dakota today. Providing quality healthcare to the many small rural communities in South Dakota is the primary goal of USD’s physician assistant program, and former and current members of the military play an important role in achieving it.
Members of the military regularly receive training that prepares them for a more complex physician assistant program. Alex Sherlock, who served in the Special Warfare Craft Crewman division of the Navy, acted as support personnel for Navy SEALS. His job was to pilot specialized watercraft to retrieve SEAL units from combat zones. At the same time, he was also responsible for transporting medical supplies to remote villages and aiding the physicians tasked with caring for these far off people.
Prior to joining the Navy, Sherlock had graduated from USD with a degree in criminal justice. His medical missions in the navy inspired him to pursue a career as a physician assistant after returning to the U.S. in 2014. Thanks to his time in the military and the credits transferred from his undergraduate degree, Sherlock will graduate in 2016 and be able to start impacting health care the world over.
Someone looking to begin a career as a physician assistant will find that the field’s roots in military service are still an important part of being a physician assistant today.