HONOLULU - Tripler Army Medical Center's Interservice Physician Assistant Program Class 10-2 graduated in the TAMC Chapel May 14, here.

Capt. Amanda Buchholz, Capt. Brian Gomez, and Capt. Rhett Soltas each received a Masters of Physician Assistant Studies degree from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the affiliated academic institution for IPAP.

The PA profession has a long history. During the Civil War, the Union Army created a Surgeon Assistant Corps to assist physicians on and off the battle field. The modern PA profession officially began October 6, 1967 when the first PA class of four students graduated from Duke University in Durham, N.C.

Physician assistants work in all of types of medical and surgical practice settings.

Dr. John Mallon, emergency medicine physician, Emergency Department, TAMC, was invited to be the keynote speaker for the ceremony. Mallon, a Vietnam veteran, was a PA in southern Georgia from 1980-1984.

"The PA concept has just boomed," Mallon said. "There are currently 79,000 practicing physician assistants and the profession absorbs 4,000-5,000 new physician assistants a year without a problem."

Mallon said a lot of his experience as a PA is what prepared him for being a physician. He said he has helped train new PAs and is optimistic about the future of the profession.

"I think anything that makes a PA a better clinician is better for the people they take care of, especially when they send PAs downrange to take care of our Soldiers who are in combat," Mallon explained.

The students of Class 2-10 were asked to nominate their educators for the Capt. Sean Grimes, PA-C, Outstanding Preceptor Award. Grimes, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2005, was the first PA killed in action during the overseas contingency operations. The award was created to honor the sacrifices he made and recognize the sacrifices made by those involved in the training of physician assistants.

During the ceremony, the students presented Jeffrey Robin, certified physician assistant, Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic, Otolaryngology, Department of Surgery, TAMC with the award. Robin said that even though he is a civilian, his career has always crossed paths with the military.

"At my first job after graduating from PA school, I worked for two otolaryngologists in a private civilian practice, (who were retired military medical officers)," Robin explained. "All the skills that I developed and knowledge I obtained about Otolaryngology, I received from military medical officers.

"Here I am ten years later taking the exact same skills and knowledge I learned from (them) and I am teaching it to future medical officers," Robin added. "This is my way of trying to keep the tradition of military medicine alive."

Robin said the students in Class 2-10 had a positive influence on him as an educator.

"I can honestly say that this particular class of PA students were some of the most dedicated, passionate and driven students, who I have had the opportunity to work with," Robin said. "They already had the same traits that I try to use to motivate students, so what this did was it motivated me to work harder for them. These students reminded me why I like to teach."

Buchholz will be taking her skills to Fort Carson, Colo., while Gomez and Soltas will stay on Oahu where they will utilize their PA skills at U.S. Army Health Clinic-Schofield Barracks.