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News | Feb. 6, 2024

Coast Guardsmen cruise to physician assistant duties after IPAP graduation

By Rodney Jackson, Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center Public Affairs

FORT CAVAZOS, Texas – The first ever Coast Guardsmen graduated from the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center Interservice Physician Assistant Program in a ceremony at the hospital 1 Feb.
IPAP is the largest PA program in the world and ranks amongst the top 15 programs in the nation. It was first established in 1996 when the Army, Navy, and Air Force combined their various PA programs to form IPAP. Today, all branches, including Coast Guard, can apply for this intense 28-month program exclusive to military personnel.
Coast Guardsmen, Lt. Mary Leon, and Lt. j.g. Ethan Etlinger, were excited to have family, friends, and staff attend the ceremony.
“This is an extra special graduation, because in the history of CRDAMC we have not had any Coast Guard graduates,” said Lt. Col. Ismael Flecha Jr., IPAP phase II program director. “We are not near any large bodies of water or coastlines, so I know the perceptions are kind of confusing, but you are the first.”
I know this journey was not easy, and challenging with late nights and early mornings, and a lot of stress, he added.
“As you step out and embark on your new career, I challenge you to keep in mind that this is only the beginning of what will be the most rewarding and sometimes challenging profession, welcome to phase III,” said Flecha.
The new physician assistants will embark on new assignments as they leave CRDAMC, and had similar emotions about finishing up the program.
Etlinger is heading to a small Coast Guard base in Miami Florida.
“It feels amazing to graduate the program,” said Etlinger. “I know that I have the national certification exam lingering over my head, but I will take that February 22nd. Once I see the word pass on that paper it’s going to be a whole weight lifted off of me.”
I’m excited to get to see my own patients, get a little autonomy, and figuring it all out, he added.
Leon will join graduates from other locations at ‘Coast Guard Island’ in Alameda California.
“It’s awesome and also a little sad, because I’m going to miss everyone here including the faculty staff and all of my fellow students, but I’m really looking forward to going out and being a physician assistant in the Coast Guard,” said Leon. “I feel like I have the skills that I need to definitely start and build from there.
Guest speaker Col. (Ret.) William Weaver, deputy IPAP program director, offered words of encouragement and thanked the graduate’s families in attendance for their sacrifice while their loved ones endured the program. 
“The Army has it’s ethos and it’s creed full of time-honored moral azimuths and values, and you have yours too, but you have a line in yours that I think is unique to the Department of Defense and Homeland Security.” said. “I shall sell life dearly to an enemy to my country but give it freely to rescue those in peril”, a PA in the United States Coast Guard, can there be anything more noble than that.”
We are not green or blue today, this day proudly we’re purple. Ethan and Mary, we’ve learned as much from you as you may have from us and it has been an absolute joy having you here at the home of Americas III Armor Corps, he added.
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