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NEWS | June 25, 2024

New York Army Guard Medics Train to Become PAs and Officers

By Eric Durr, New York National Guard

WEST POINT, N.Y. - Two New York Army Guard medics are now officers and physician assistants after completing an intensive 29-month program run by the Army’s Medical Center of Excellence at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

First Lts. Adrian Smith and John Gamalski also earned master’s degrees through the Interservice Physician Assistants Program (IPAP) following a year of clinical work in New York, including rotations at West Point’s Keller Army Community Hospital.

The “very demanding course” turns military medical personnel into world-class PAs, the shorthand for physician assistants, according to Lt . Col. Luis Garcia, the New York Army National Guard’s deputy state surgeon.

He said getting Soldiers through the course is a win for New York because it is tough to recruit qualified PAs and a win for the Soldiers because PAs are in demand across the medical industry.

Enrolling experienced Soldiers to become PAs, rather than recruiting civilians, means that the new PAs already understand the military and Army medicine, he said.

The two took their oaths as officers during a special June 7 ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy, presided over by Maj. Gen. Michel Natali, the New York National Guard’s assistant adjutant general, Army.

Garcia said PAs fill a critical role in Army medical care. They are the primary medical provider at the battalion level and at forward aid stations in combat. They lead medical platoons and detachments and care for Soldiers and their families in garrison environments.

Smith and Gamalski were great candidates for the IPAP school, Garcia said.

“Both of them were medics with extensive experience and they have experience with the battlefield and how to treat those patients,” Garcia said.

Smith and Gamalski said that becoming a PA was a goal they had set for themselves.

Gamalski served six years in the 75th Ranger Regiment and six years in the New York Army Guard’s Medical Readiness Detachment.

“I worked under a lot of phenomenal medical leaders,” he said.

Smith, who has served for 19 years as a medic, said “life happened,” and while working as a police officer and an EMT, he never had the chance to reach that goal.

On the latest of his four deployments as a member of the 466th Area Medical Company, though, then Sgt. 1st Class Smith, said he decided he would enroll in the military PA course.

“And so, I did, and I got accepted and here I am,” he said.

Getting into the Army PA program is not easy.

Applicants must have 60 credits of college courses in subjects ranging from chemistry to English to human anatomy and Algebra. They need a minimum of 3.0 grades in science and an overall average of 2.5.

Applicants also must score well on the SAT and the PA-CAT or Physician’s Assistant College Aptitude Test.

Getting accepted means diving into four quarters of academic work at “Fort Sam.”

“It’s kind of like freshman through senior if you will,” Gamalski said.

“You are tested on everything from microbiology, biochemistry, and anatomy and physiology,” he said. 

Students study cardiology, emergency medicine, nephrology, urology, “and all your ‘ologies,’” Gamalski said.

“I would describe it like drinking water through a fire hose,’” Smith said. “We’re constantly learning medicine and being tested on it.”

The second phase of the school involves 52 weeks of clinical work at an Army hospital.

This brought Smith and Gamalski to Keller. That part of the course wrapped up in June.

“It was a great experience, a great education,” Smith said. “It was life-changing.”

Smith will work in a medical/surgical intensive care unit in Charlotte, North Carolina, and then drive to Binghamton to drill with the 204th Engineer Battalion.

Gamalski, assigned to the 466th Area Medical Company in Queensbury, said his next goal is to become a flight surgeon.

Then, he wants to work for a busy hospital.

“I want to continue that drink from the fire hose of mentality of learning medicine, doing medicine, so I can do better for the Guard and be better prepared for Guard deployments.”



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