FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Physician assistants on Fort Campbell gathered at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital Oct. 11 to celebrate the 51st anniversary of their profession and the physician assistant's role in Army Medicine.

The luncheon and networking event was held in conjunction with PA Week.

Physician assistants serve as the primary medical provider to Soldiers in battalion and division level units and are responsible for unit medical readiness and training medics. They can also provide garrison healthcare to Soldiers, family members, and other eligible beneficiaries. They serve an important role in the overall quality of life for Soldiers and their families.

"A physician assistant is a mid-level provider that works under the supervision of a physician," said luncheon participant, Capt. Seth Yates, battalion physician assistant for 326th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

Yates said he runs sick-call in his battalion and tracks and coordinates care so the Soldiers in his unit are ready to deploy. This includes immunizations, permanent physical profiles/duty limitations, eyeglasses/inserts, blood type, medical warning tags, personal deployment medications, pregnancy screening, DNA, HIV and dental status among other data elements.

Additionally, Yates and other Army physician assistant's work to expand the skill set of medics in their units.

"We're the trainer for them. They have their basic skill set from advanced individual training then we take that and build on it and teach them advance intervention and assessment techniques," said Yates.

Blanchfield also has an important role preparing physician assistants for the Army. The hospital is home to the Capt. Sean P Grimes Physician Assistant Training Center.

After completing 16 months of basic medical sciences and clinical medicine courses during Interservice Physician Assistant Program Phase I in San Antonio, Texas, Army physician assistant students complete 13 months of clinical rotations at one of 15 Army medical treatment facilities like Blanchfield.

Blanchfield has about 14 physician assistant students at any given time going through the Phase II training pipeline. Students rotate through about 20 primary care settings and specialty services, like dermatology, internal medicine, and behavioral health in order to gain knowledge and experience before graduating and getting assigned to a unit.

"The job is a little different every day. You never quite no what's coming to you, especially in the ER. That always keeps you interested and learning throughout your entire life," said Maj. Erin Driver, division physician assistant, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), who joined Yates and other division physician assistants for the PA Week luncheon and networking opportunity at Blanchfield.

More than 60 physician assistants, both military and civilian, serve military healthcare beneficiaries from Fort Campbell and the surrounding communities.

"It's great. By far the most job satisfaction I've ever had," said Yates, who served as a medic before becoming physician assistant. "I absolutely loved being a medic. This has just been an extension and [has] built on that quite a bit."

PA Week is held annually nationwide Oct. 6-12.