Capt. Heather Meier, 452d Combat Support Hospital, U.S. Army Reserve, is a surgical nurse currently deployed in support of Operation Spartan Shield at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. She recently earned her master's degree at a physicians assistant graduate program, and then completed her clinical rotations in Kuwait.
"The program wasn't bad, I'd say it's busy but as long as you put in the time and do the work, you can do it," she said.
Grad school is hard enough. Add pre-mobilization training and drill to the mix and it becomes even tougher.
"It got tricky because I was living in Virginia and flying back for drill once a month. In a grad program losing a weekend of studying when you have 3-4 exams in a week was a little tough," she said. "Then when we came into our pre-mob year and trainings picked up, I missed a month at one time during my clinical portion which was really painful."
As part of her preparation for the deployment, Meier had to go through an approval process to even be able to do her clinical work overseas.
"We knew we were going to deploy so I started planning how I could do my clinical rotations here. There has to be an affiliation agreement that has to go all the way up through legal and be approved for me to do that here and fall under a provider," Meier said. "So I started this process and this paperwork a long time ago. The hospital commander has to approve everything, the school has to approve, so basically the school's legal and the Army's legal have to come to an agreement for me to do my clinical rotation and see patients under a licensed provider."
The providers she fell under were Lt. Col. David Miller and Capt. Laura Davis.
"I function as a mentor. She would see the patient and tell me about the patient, and what she thought was going and come up with a plan. I would go behind her with my own exam and we would discuss whether I concurred or not."
With the guidance of her preceptors and support of the team at the hospital and the exercises they participated in, she was able to complete her hours in about three months.
"It took me about three months. I had to do four rotations: surgery, ER, and two electives. I did one electives in emergency medicine so I could just stay in the EMT, and then my second elective was deployment medicine as a whole. So a lot of the joint training exercises are deployed medicine. So those all counted toward my hours."
Although there were many opportunities for her to complete her hours, there were a few challenges that arose from being deployed instead of being in a clinic at home.
"We have active duty Soldiers here who are usually young and healthy so being here, you don't have the diverse population that you would stateside. Also, my primary job would always come first. So even if I was in the middle of something, if I had to go do something for my job, I would have to go, which would make it hard to get hours at times."
Now that she is a graduate, the only thing Meier needs is the licensure exam, which she will have to take stateside, she said. She plans to get into trauma surgery or emergency medicine. In the Army, as a physician assistant, she is able to fill in as needed in a few different roles.
"We can see patients, we can prescribe medicine. On deployments, I can substitute for a family practice doctor. I can substitute for an ER doctor as well."
Davis says she proud of Meier's accomplishments and knows that she will go far, regardless of what path she takes.
"I'm just very proud of her for finishing the program even during the deployment," said Davis. "She's worked really hard. I think that in the future when she gets established in her practice, she will continue to be successful."