News: Afghan soldiers become battlefield physician assistants
Story by Sgt. Ashley Curtis
CAMP HERO, Afghanistan - Afghan National Army soldiers on the field rely on medics to quickly take care of wounds incurred in action, but whom do the medics rely on for up-to-date training and medical guidance?
They rely on their physician assistants.
ANA base Camp Hero in Kandahar province is strengthening the force’s capabilities by providing training for Afghan soldiers to become physician assistants with an intense 15-month course.
“They will be responsible for the healthcare of all soldiers within their kandaks [battalions] and ensure their medics are trained and proficient in their combat medical skills,” said U.S. Army Capt. Kristopher Lewis, a physician assistant and mentor to the course’s instructors as part of the Afghan national security health development team.
Although the necessary qualifications to enter the course have gone through changes, current students must have a high school education and pass an intrinsic exam, in order to enroll in the program.
Many of the students are former combat medics, but not all of them. Some have been a part of the ANA special forces, police officers and others were civilians who decided this was the path they wanted to take. These students from all walks of life stand to add great capacity to the ANA after their course completion.
“A physician assistant is an invaluable combat multiplier,” Lewis said. “They sustain the health and readiness of the fighting force. [They’re] an expert down at the combat level in medicine.”
The ANA’s goal is for each of its kandaks to have at least one physician assistant. The course at Camp Hero is now training 50 students for the job.
The current crop of students is more than halfway through the course and expected to graduate in March 2013.
After they graduate, they must serve in the Afghan army for at least three years. Once they've serve their obligated time in the Army, they will be able to operate like any other certified physician assistant in the private sector.
Lewis believes this will have lasting positive effects for the country that is currently battling problems with education and a lack of good healthcare in rural areas.
When Lewis speaks about the part he’s played in their success, his pride is evident.
“It is an inspiring feeling to know that I may have a positive impact in the mentorship and skills of the PA students who in turn will directly impact the healthcare of the Afghan soldier[s], police and civilians,” Lewis said.
The ability of the ANA to treat its own wounded will likely become more and more important to Afghan National Security Force medical professionals, as the forces have continued to incur a higher number of casualties in recent months than their coalition partners and coalition forces prepare for their withdrawal.