By Jeff Troth, U.S. Army Medical Department Activity -- Fort Carson PAO

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Physician assistants from across Fort Carson came together to celebrate 50 years of the profession and learn from each other Oct. 11, 2017, at the Penrose House.

The 2017 Physician Assistant (PA) Continuing Medical Education Day had two objectives: to celebrate national PA week Oct. 6-12, 2017, and to provide line PAs -- those assigned to brigades and battalions -- time to improve their "foxhole" in order to improve their ability to take care of their Soldiers, said Maj. Christopher Cordova, Evans Army Community Hospital Interservice Physician Assistant Program coordinator.

"To do that, we brought in specialty providers from neurology, physical therapy, pain management, orthopedics and women's health to give 4th Infantry Division and EACH PAs an opportunity to hear what treatments are available in these specialty clinics and what treatments they can implement in their daily practice."

The day included lectures on management of lower back pain, headache management, PA professional topics, women's health and orthopedic shoulder conditions.

"The lectures are definitely geared toward the treatment of our active-duty population," said Cordova. "The first two lecturers talked specifically about those factors that are present in the active-duty population. Downtown at Memorial Hospital you are not going to see a lot of patients who have jumped out of airplanes or do ruck marches on a daily basis."

He said Soldiers are a unique subset of the American population and they have a unique set of issues.

The earliest version of the PA was created during the Civil War when the Union Army developed a surgeon assistant corps to assist physicians on and off the battlefield. The modern PA profession officially began Oct. 6, 1967, when the first class of four students graduated from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

"We included the line PAs in our continuing education because they are the tip of the spear for Army medicine, every Soldier has a primary care manager," said Cordova. "For a significant amount of our active-duty population their primary care manager is a PA."

Capt. Lucas Wangerin, a physician assistant assigned to 4th Sustainment Brigade, 4th Inf. Div., said he has seen a lot of Soldiers experiencing back pain while working at the DiRaimondo Support Clinic.
"The first couple of lectures mirrored pretty much what I see on a daily basis and what I have already been doing," said Wangerin. "But there are a couple of things in regards to referrals to pain therapy or physical therapy that will help me help my Soldiers get better sooner."

Cordova said prior to PA CME Day, a physician assistant who had a patient with a headache might have "treatment A, B and C" with no positive effect and then referred the patient to neurology.

"Hopefully after today they can take some of what they learned and instead of referring the patient and delaying their treatment for three or four weeks, they can now pull treatment D out of their toolbox because they remember the specialty guy said, 'Try this medicine because this is what I try after the patient fails a certain treatment,'" he said. "The overall effect is we decrease referrals and decrease the delay in effective treatment for patients."

Wangerin noted the benefit of networking.

"This is a great opportunity for all of us to get together and learn more about each other's practices," he said. "The more that PAs on Fort Carson coordinate with each other the better we will be, but, ultimately, it will be our patients who benefit the most."