SEPTEMBER 22, 2016, PENSACOLA, Fla. (NNS) – A family medicine physician’s assistant (PA) became the Navy’s first aviation PA earns wings of gold in a historic “winging” ceremony held Sept. 21 at the Navy Aerospace Medical Institute (NAMI) in Pensacola, Florida.
Lt. William Grisham now reports to NAMI as a staff member, seeing naval aviators and aviation flight crew patients.
The culmination of Grisham’s efforts gives the Navy another avenue from which to pull specialists in the field of aviation medicine, and creates a new program to train health care providers to work alongside flight surgeons.
“Lt. Grisham’s designation as the first aeromedical physician’s assistant is great for the fleet, Navy Medicine and the Medical Service Corps’ physician assistant community,” said Capt. John Wyland, NAMI officer-in-charge (OIC) at the time of Grisham’s appointment in the program. “Aerospace medicine physician’s assistants will serve as invaluable flight surgeon extenders in areas of direct patient care, preventive medicine, safety and readiness. They will fill critical operational billets, and the experience they receive should enhance their ability to serve in future leadership positions.”
Grisham’s endeavor to become a aviation PA began five years ago with an email. While working as a family medicine PA at Naval Branch Health Clinic Atsugi, Japan, he had already received orders to be a family medicine PA at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Florida, when a hot-fill billet request popped into his email inbox.
“I immediately responded to the email and contacted my specialty leader to let him know I wanted that billet,” Grisham said.
That billet was in aerospace medicine with Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5. Instead of moving halfway around the world, Grisham transferred across the hall, remaining in Astugi.
The opportunity allowed Grisham to work with flight surgeons, and to receive hands-on training in aviation patient care. More importantly, his time with CVW 5 showed PAs could successfully operate as extensions of flight surgeons within the aviation medicine community. That set the stage for his historic formal training with NAMI three years later.
He admitted there was pressure being the first PA to complete the program.
“I definitely had people tell me, ‘Better not screw this up,’ or something like that,” Grisham joked. “However, I can honestly tell you that the only pressure I felt was the pressure I put on myself to do well and successfully complete this training. Just like many of the student naval aviators and flight surgeons I trained with, I wanted to do well for myself and to prove I belonged here just like everyone else.”
The training for Grisham and future aviation PAs is identical to what flight surgeons receive with some differences in responsibilities. The program lasts six months and includes academics and flight training.
The flight training portion consists of aviation preflight indoctrination and an abbreviated flight training syllabus with a training air wing at NAS Pensacola or NAS Whiting Field. The academic portion is held at NAMI and includes aerospace medicine topics in primary care, acute care, occupational health, preventative medicine and naval aviation safety. Graduates are assigned to a CVW medicine department where their duties are similar to a flight surgeon.
Grisham said his journey from family medicine to aviation medicine is one he didn’t take alone, crediting everyone from leadership at CVW 5, NAMI and the Navy Medicine Operational Training Center (NMOTC) in Pensacola, Florida, to his wife.
“There have [been] so many great individuals involved in this process,” Grisham said. “I also owe a great deal of gratitude to Commander, Naval Air Forces (CNAF) and Capt. Kris Belland, commander, Pacific Fleet surgeon, for helping make this opportunity possible and for their strong support every step of the way.”