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College aims to turn soldiers into physician assistants
Bonnie Dadig, chairwoman of the physician assistant program at the College of Allied Health Sciences at the Georgia Health Sciences University, hopes to attract four or five veterans per class. - photo by Georgiahealth photo

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Transitioning military service members into civilian careers as physician assistants is one goal of a recent $834,000 Health Resources and Services Administration federal grant received by the College of Allied Health Sciences at Georgia Health Sciences University.

The Green to Grad program aims to increase the number of veterans in the Department of Physician Assistant to four or five students per class, or about 10 percent.

“We’ve always had one or two veterans in the program each year,” said Physician Assistant Chair Bonnie Dadig. “Now we’re reaching out earlier, when they return from overseas. We’re looking to eliminate enrollment barriers unique to veterans.”

A specialized set of admission criteria and transcript review includes consideration of course work started but not completed due to deployments as well as evaluation of life skills often associated with military members, such as composure in high-stress environments and exceptional levels of responsibility.

“The prior-service applicant will have already established a great deal of life experience that will be priceless in their education,” Dadig said. “It is our expectation that they will also impart this experience and confidence to their non-military classmates.”

The 27-month curriculum culminates in a Master of Physician Assistant degree. Extensive prerequisite coursework is required for admission; however, a bachelor’s degree is not mandatory

“This is about access and transfer credit,” said Vice President of Military and Global Affairs Jeff Foley. Foley, a retired Brigadier General and former Commanding General of the U.S. Army Signal Center and Fort Gordon, envisions the lessons learned from this pilot program being applied to other academic areas when GHSU and Augusta State University consolidate in 2013. “Helping veterans gain access to the wonderful education opportunities here at GHSU and ASU is the right thing to do – it is that simple.” 

To support Green to Grad objectives, Eisenhower Army Medical Center in Fort Gordon, the Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home and both Veterans Administration medical centers in Augusta have agreed to serve in recruitment, advisory and clinical training roles. Dadig hopes to expand the program to members of the National Guard and Reserves.

“Educating, mentoring and training our nation’s warriors as they return to civilian life is very important to us,” said Dadig, noting that many faculty members have prior military affiliations and are well-versed in the special circumstances affecting former service members. “We strongly support our veteran students. We know they have the attributes to serve our profession well as they go on to provide quality, compassionate health care in Georgia and throughout the nation.”

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