Physicians assistants work to keep Coast Guardsmen on duty

Ensign Daniel Brunner and Petty Officer 3rd Class Madison Renfro

Ensign Daniel Brunner, left, a physician assistant at Coast Guard Base Kodiak’s Rockmore-King Clinic prepares for a patient appointment with Petty Officer 3rd Class Madison Renfro Oct. 12, 2012 at the clinic in Kodiak, Alaska. October 6 – 12 was designated National Physician Assistant Week. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist Drew Herman.

by Auxiliarist Drew Herman

Through Friday the Coast Guard recognizes vital members of its health care system with National Physician Assistant Week.

Authorized to practice medicine under the supervision of a licensed physician, physician assistants are playing a growing role in the military and civilian medical world.

“We’re very valuable members of the health care team, and we work in concert with the physicians to ensure the highest quality of health care for our patients,” said Ensign Daniel Brunner, a physician assistant, assigned to the Rockmore-King Clinic at Coast Guard Base Kodiak. “Most of us are prior enlisted. Some of us are health service technicians, some of us are different ratings but have experience doing EMT work or aviation medicine work.”

Brunner, a former chief petty officer, was a health services technician when he passed the rigorous application process for admission to the small corps of Coast Guard PAs.

To qualify as PAs, Coast Guardsmen undergo an intense year at the Army’s training facility at Ft. Sam Hood in Texas.

“When you first graduate school, you’re automatically assigned to a larger clinic to get some family practice, some family medicine under your belt,” Brunner said.

But the big Coast Guard stations like Kodiak, Cape May, N.J., and Mobile, Ala., are not the only places that benefit from PAs.

“TDY (temporary duty) opportunities are available to us all the time — on cutters, on land, natural disasters, global events,” Brunner said.

In Alaska, for example, PAs travel to isolated villages and carry out physicals for school children.

Unlike the Coast Guard’s physicians and dentists, who are borrowed from the Public Health Service, the PAs are “pure Coast Guard,” and they can perform many of the same duties as physicians.

PAs do have certain limitations on their credentialing, but can prescribe medicine, perform minor surgeries and conduct wellness exams.

With more than 1,000 active duty personnel and family members from spouses to teens and babies in Kodiak, Brunner and the clinic staff see the full range of health issues.

“That’s why I love my job, because every day there’s something new, something different,” he said. “Whatever they need, we’ll take care of them.”

Brunner, who arrived in Alaska in June, is finding the fall season brings a common complaint.

“Right now we’re in the cough and cold season,” he said, noting the increase in clinic visitors feeling tired with runny noses, congestion and sore throats.

Brunner offered some preventive advice: “The best plan of attack is wash your hands.”

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