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Army Air Force Navy

Physician Assistant

OFFICER | Full Time, Part Time


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Overview

A Physician Assistant (PA), is a health care provider who extends the hand of the supervising physician to remote or isolated locations. A Canadian Armed Forces Physician Assistant is part of the greater military health services team, they provides primary and emergency health care for Canadian Armed Forces members domestically and abroad.  Physician Assistants are employed throughout Canada in Health Services Clinics, onboard ship or overseas in support of a myriad of operational missions. 

The primary responsibilities of a Physician Assistant are to:

  • Provide primary health care;
  • Provide emergency care;
  • Promote health protection and education;
  • Practice environmental medicine and hyperbaric medicine; and
  • Promote occupational health and safety.

Work environment

Physician Assistants may serve anywhere that CAF members are based. They work in fully equipped medical clinics, whether at a base or garrison, or in a temporary clinic while supporting operations. PAs are also employed independently in isolated locations including on-board ships and submarines.

Career Overview

Transcript

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.

Related Civilian Occupations

  • Physician Assistant

Training

After enrolment, Physician Assistants attend Basic Officer Military Qualification training at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, for 12 weeks. Topics covered include general military knowledge, the principles of leadership, regulations and customs of the Forces, basic weapons handling, and first aid. Opportunities will also be provided to apply such newly acquired military skills in training exercises involving force protection, field training, navigation and leadership. A rigorous physical fitness program is also a vital part of basic training. Basic Military Officer Qualification training is provided in English or French and successful completion is a prerequisite for further training.

 

Learn more about Basic Training here.

Physician Assistants must complete the Common Health Services Officer (CHSO) course which is an eight-day e-learning course available on the Defence Learning Network (DLN).  The CHSO course introduces Physician Assistants to Canadian Armed Forces policies and procedures as well as HR management of military members and civilian personnel.

Physician Assistants attend the Canadian Forces Health Services Training Centre in Borden, Ontario, where they are introduced to the organizational structure and history of the Canadian Forces Medical Service and the unique circumstances of practicing military medicine. This training provides new Physician Assistant Officers the foundation for working with other Health Service professionals, and delivering health care in a military environment.

As they progress in their career, Physician Assistants who demonstrate the required ability and potential may be offered advanced training. Available training includes:

  • Basic Aviation Medicine;
  • Basic Dive Medicine; and
  • Advanced Dive Medicine.

Entry plans

If you already have a Baccalaureate or Master’s degree from an accredited Physician Assistant Program, are a Certified PA holding a current Physician Assistant Certification Council of Canada (PACCC) Certification and current registration to practise as a Physician Assistant in a Canadian province or territory, the CAF may place you directly into the required on-the-job training program following basic training.

Part time options

The role of the Canadian Forces Health Services Reserves is to provide trained personnel to support, augment and sustain Canadian Forces Health Services organizations for CAF operations and training activities, while building and maintaining links between the CAF and the local community.

As a health care professional in the Health Service Reserves, you must have an unrestricted licence to practise in your clinical field (including certification in your specific specialty) and have the ability to maintain clinical currency within your civilian workplace.

This position is available for part-time employment with the Primary Reserve at certain locations across Canada. Reserve Force members usually serve part time with a military unit in their community, and may serve while going to school or working at a civilian job. They are paid during their training. They are not posted or required to do a military move. However, they can volunteer to move to another base. They may also volunteer for deployment on a military mission within or outside Canada.