October 24 , 2005
PA alumni share Katrina medical stories
BY Richard Quartarone & Chanmi Kim
Hurricanes Rita and Katrina were major topics of conversation when graduates of Emory’s award-winning Physician Assistant (PA) program gathered to recognize National PA Week, held Oct. 6–12. They met not simply as observers; many shared their personal stories as medical responders.
“It’s no surprise that many Emory PA alumni were involved in the medical response to Katrina and Rita,” said Allan Platt, co-coordinator of the PA program’s Career Masters in Medical Science in the School of Medicine’s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine. “Emory’s PA program is recognized nationally for training smart, independent clinicians who can think on their feet—the kind of people who know how to respond in emergencies.”
A number of alumni in private practice saw evacuees from the Gulf Coast states in their offices, and many others served the medical needs of evacuees in shelters across metro Atlanta. At least one graduate was part of a disaster medical response team that went to New Orleans: 1999 graduate Julie Jacobson, who currently works as a cardiology PA at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Atlanta, helped evaluate evacuees when they landed at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta.
During emergencies like Katrina and Rita, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) activates the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) to relocate medically fragile victims from disaster areas. When NDMS is activated, clinicians from the local VA hospital evaluate the evacuees’ conditions and decide whether they should go to a shelter or receive care at a local hospital.
“I needed everything I learned at Emory about patient care and being a ‘thinking’ clinician when I saw patients at Dobbins,” Jacobson said. “We could not depend on technology. We had to be efficient and accurate.”
Even in this stressful situation, Jacobson’s Emory training helped keep her focused on the human element of patient care.
“The smallest things make a huge difference,” Jacobson said. Like when she sat down next to an older woman who was sitting quietly, waiting to be evaluated, and said, “I’m Julie Jacobson.” The woman just responded with a “thank you.”
According to Platt, Emory’s PA program is unique because of “the emphasis we put on serving traditionally underserved populations.”
“We attract students who want to make a difference,” Platt said.
One of the nation’s first PA programs, Emory’s program graduated its first class of 31 in 1971. In 1990, it expanded to offer a Master’s of Medical Science degree; the mission of the Emory PA program has always been to provide care to underserved patient populations.
Ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, Emory’s PA program today has more than 400 clinical sites, including the Good Samaritan Health Clinic and the South Georgia Farmworker Health Project. Each year approximately 50 students are accepted into the 28-month program, and graduates consistently have class averages near the top of the range on the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE).
To learn more about Emory PA program, visit www.emorypa.org.