I’m Captain Stuart Russelle from Sudbury, Ontario, a Physician Assistant with 1 Canadian Field Hospital at Garrison Petawawa.
And I’m Lieutenant Sylvie Roy from Gatineau, Québec, a Physician Assistant currently posted at 1 Canadian Field Hospital in Petawawa.
RUSSELLE: Physician Assistants are part of the military healthcare team providing both primary and emergency care. We work in a lot of different places: a ship on the ocean, on an aircraft, in a tent, or at a clinic.
RUSSELLE: The PA is considered a mid-level care practitioner and he is a physician extender. We’re there to be the extra hands of the doctor.
ROY: In garrison, we work at – we call them CDU’s, which is our home clinic. We’re able to do morning – we call it sick parade, so it’s a walk-in clinic for a certain amount of time in the morning, and then we fall into booked appointments and see our patients accordingly.
RUSSELLE: Our job is to ensure that members of the Forces are healthy and able to deploy. And we get to go along with them on international missions, often operating in extremely challenging regions. Physician Assistants are often deployed as part of a bigger medical team.
RUSSELLE: Last year, I deployed as part of the government’s plan to re-settle 25,000 Syrian refugees. So I deployed to Beirut over Christmas, I provided real-life support as a Physician Assistant to over 300 soldiers. At that time, I got to liaise with the government of Canada, the embassy, the International Organization of Migration. So it was a quite a diverse job and very rewarding.
ROY: Deployments are the greatest thing that I can experience. Seeing some wounded soldiers is not always the greatest thing, although it’s a great feeling to be able to make them feel better.
RUSSELLE: The interesting part of it is that, although you’re a physician extender, you may be placed in positions of autonomy, more forward in forward operating bases where you are the senior medical authority. And at any moment, if the combat missions are going on, then you’re expected to take in, manage, treat, and then to push to the surgical centres, those patients. It places you in a position where you need to know your medicine and you need to know it very well, because there may not be somebody just at the other end of the phone to help you out.
RUSSELLE: The best part of being a Physician Assistant is that you never work at one place for very long.
ROY: We are able to train in different environments. We need to be ready to go, for example, on a ship, in a submarine, doing some air medical evacuation, and also in the Army set-up where we go in the field.
RUSSELLE: Giving our soldiers the best care possible allows them to focus on their mission. Whether it’s on a tour of duty delivering emergency humanitarian relief as part of the Disaster Assistance Response Team, or specialty employment involving dive and flight medicine, the only limit to where you can go is your desire to see new places and do new things.
ROY: I’ve deployed to Afghanistan a few times – my last deployment was at the Canadian embassy, where I cared for some soldiers, local employed staff, and also Canadian civilians. It was just amazing.
RUSSELLE: The military Physician Assistant program sends its students across Canada to the best academic hospitals and sites. When you complete your training, you’ll be posted to a Canadian Armed Forces installation here in Canada or abroad. If you’re posted to a ship, the Special Forces or the Air Force, you’ll go through specialty training to prepare you for the specific requirements of that posting.
RUSSELLE: Even when you come off and you get the excitement of being posted, your first posting from a ship to an air base or to the army, you’re working in a healthcare team and you have a preceptor physician that’s there to balance your inexperience and to help hone your skills. So you quickly become a well-rounded Physician Assistant that is able and capable of handling many, many items in medical responsibilities.
ROY: You’ll never stop learning new things. You’ll receive continuing medical education on a regular basis, to make sure you’re always on top of the latest medical innovations. And opportunities are available across the country to work at civilian hospitals to maintain and enhance your skills.
ROY: Soldiering as a Physician Assistant can be quite the challenge. We need to adapt to a different environment, either to work out of a tent, do combat medicine on your knees, under a tree. There’s never a dull moment. It’s just an amazing experience.
RUSSELLE: One of the reasons I’ve been in the military so long is that – I like the challenges of providing medicine but I also like the challenge of “Oh, we’re going to go up to the Arctic, and we’re going to do an exercise and provide medicine up there”, or “We’re going to go over to the United Kingdom and train with a whole other healthcare team to see what they do.” The diversity is really what the big draw is. The medicine is excellent, but the challenges far surpass that.