JOHNS CREEK, Ga.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Following the devastating Oklahoma tornadoes earlier this year, a two-year-old boy was brought to a local ER afraid, alone and with a significant head wound. There to provide care for the child was a highly skilled certified physician assistant (PA-C) who immediately took charge and even lay down with the crying young boy during his CT scan to keep him calm.
Caring for everything from broken bones to failing organs in doctor’s offices and hospitals, certified PAs are also often critical members of emergency response teams. These professionals are frequently at the front lines during a crisis, treating victims from terrorist attacks to natural disasters.
The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) honors these dedicated healthcare professionals during National Physician Assistants Week October 6-12.
Terrorists Bomb the Boston Marathon
MacKenzie Bohlen, PA-C, was less than an hour into her shift at Brigham & Women’s Hospital on April 15 when emergency radios announced a “mass casualty event.” Within minutes Emergency Medical Services teams began streaming through the hospital doors with medically-fragile victims.
Bohlen turned her attention to a patient on a backboard with a large leg wound who was tearfully trying to contact her family. “I could feel not only her pain but her fear — it was palpable,” says Bohlen.
While she will never forget the sadness of the marathon bombing, she notes the feeling of urgency and solidarity permeating the ER also gave her hope. “We were working together to quickly and effectively manage a high volume of severely injured patients,” recalls Bohlen. “I am proud to have been part of the team that gave great care and relief to those who were injured and scared.”
The Boston Marathon bombing killed three people and injured 264 others; however, everyone who made it to an emergency room that day survived.
Tornadoes Devastate Moore, Oklahoma
Lauren Donaldson, PA-C, was the PA caring for that two-year-old boy who was rescued by paramedics from a collapsed day care center and brought to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City. She was on duty during the worst of the May tornados – a series of twisters over a week’s time that killed 51 people, including 20 children, and injured 377 others.
“He was covered in dirt and very scared,” says Donaldson. “He only knew his first name, and we had no idea who his parents were. The boy had a severe laceration to the skull, and I was concerned about a possible brain injury. I washed his face so that I could see him, and then carried him to the CT scan because he wanted to be held.”
The boy was upset and couldn’t calm down. Donaldson had to lie on top of him so he was still enough to perform the CT. The scan was completed, and the news was good: no brain injury. Before the end of the day, Donaldson’s little patient was reunited with his grateful parents.
Donaldson has seen tragedy many times before. “I treat child abuse victims who turn into survivors every day,” she says. “It’s a different kind of disaster.”
Preparing for the Unthinkable
Jeff Chambers is one of five PAs on a 47-person Air National Guard special medical team — a rapid reaction force prepared to handle “high-yield explosive hazards.” Their mission is to provide immediate response to a site of a chemical, biological or nuclear explosion including triage, emergency treatment, patient decontamination and medical transport.
“PAs are an essential part of the team that brings a wide range of specialties to the fight to provide lifesaving care at the scene of a disaster,” says Chambers, who handles trauma regularly at his full-time job at Athens Orthopaedic Clinic in Georgia.
Although he has not yet been deployed with this force, Chambers provided medical care in Haiti after a 2010 earthquake. “As a PA in a disaster situation, you compartmentalize, focus and do your job,” he says.
Certified PAs must pass rigorous standards to earn the PA-C designation after their name.
This designation validates their clinical knowledge and cognitive skills, because it is only granted after they have graduated from an accredited PA program and passed a national certification exam administered by the NCCPA.
Today, there are more than 92,000 certified PAs providing care to millions of patients in all specialties and clinical settings.
For more information about certified PAs or to check a PA’s certification status, visit www.nccpa.net.
NCCPA is the only certifying organization for physician assistants in the United States. The PA-C credential is awarded by NCCPA to PAs who fulfill certification, certification maintenance, and recertification requirements. In 2011, NCCPA launched its Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) program for certified physician assistants practicing in Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, Emergency Medicine, Nephrology, Orthopaedic Surgery, and Psychiatry; and two new specialties Pediatrics and Hospital Medicine are being added in 2014. For more information, please call 678-417-8100 or visit www.NCCPA.net.