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News | June 7, 2024

CRDAMC IPAP students complete 100th plus iteration of the course

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

FORT CAVAZOS, Texas – The Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center held its graduation for its Interservice Physician Assistant Program and promoted two officer candidates to second lieutenant 7 June.
Renowned for its rigorous and highly respected physician assistant program that started in the 1980s, each year, a select group of students, enters the walls of CRDAMC with dreams of becoming exceptional physician assistants, for the 13-month second phase of a 29-month program that begins at Joint Base San Antonio.
For the graduating class this year, as usual, the journey had been long and arduous days and nights.
Officer Candidates Cyle Kroft and Rika Karsch, and U.S. Army Capt. Kyle Francis, Capt. Anastasia Fish, and Capt. Jessica Mason transitioned to new Army officers and physician assistants.
From the first day, they faced countless challenges. The early mornings were filled with lectures from seasoned doctors, afternoons spent in labs, and evenings shadowing doctors during their rounds. The nights were often the hardest, as they stayed up late studying and preparing for exams, their only companions being the dim lights and the quiet hums of their computers.
Despite the grueling schedule, the students formed a tight-knit group, supporting each other through the highs and lows.
One of the most memorable moments of the journey for Capt. Jessica Mason, former medical service officer, was helping a female patient with a sensitive exam in the family medicine department. The patient was uncomfortable with a student performing the exam until she saw Mason. Mason had recently helped the patient months prior while she was in her emergency room PA rotation.
“She saw me and recognized me, felt comfortable, and said I would like Capt. Mason to do the exam,” said Mason. “She remembered the patient care that I gave her in the ER and the time that I spent explaining the plan and treatment and she was then comfortable.”
To me that felt like a full circle moment of what I look forward to as a PA, is having that continuity of care with your patient, where they know you, trust you, and you can build that rapport and trust, she added.
The final months of the program were a whirlwind of preparation for their final exams. The pressure was immense, but the students were determined. They poured over their textbooks, practiced procedures, and engaged in intense study sessions, all while continuing their duties in the hospital.
“When you arrive at the school house for orientation and they explain that over the next six months you’re going to have over 102 exams, it kind of hits you in the face that it’s going to be difficult,” said Capt. Kyle Francis, physician assistant, former signal corps officer, Oklahoma Nation Guard.
The CRDAMC phase of the program focuses on surgical and specialty rotations first and broad based internal, emergency, and family medicine at the end with all the difficult phase two exams and a culminating certification exam.
“For the last three months that you’re here, you’re going nose to the grindstone just going super hard, studying every single day trying to make sure that you are ready to pass that exam,” said Francis. 
The hospital faculty, the graduates’ families, and friends gathered for the ceremony and the graduates laughed about their memories of their journey of sleepless nights, the challenging cases, the bonds formed, and the countless lives they had already touched and that had touched theirs.
Guest speaker Lt. Col. Jerimiah Walker, program director, U.S. Army Baylor emergency medicine residency program, CRDAMC, told the graduates that in order to take care of multiple patients they would have to share the prize they received from IPAP.
 “The prize you got from IPAP was a world class medical education, one of the best physician assistant training programs nationwide,” said Walker. “You may not realize it now, because you’ve been surrounded by people who are phenomenally driven for the same ends that you are.”
Walker encouraged the graduates to teach, mentor and train the medics in the units they will go to and described them as another set of hands.
“If you train the medics in your unit, you go from having one pair of hands to having 30 or 40, and then when you’ve had that second patient, that fifth patient, that fortieth patient, every single one will be better because of the time and effort you spent training yourself now, continuing to train yourself in the future and sharing that knowledge and training with the people that you are responsible for teaching,” said Walker. “Share the prize.”
With these words resonating in their hearts, the graduates celebrated their achievements, knowing that their journey was just beginning. They were no longer students; they were physicians, ready to face the world with the knowledge, skills, and compassion they had cultivated.
“For anyone that’s ever considered a career in healthcare, this is a great opportunity,” said Francis.  “This program, although difficult and somewhat long, being 29 months, is a fantastic program and the education is second to none.”
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