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Physician assistants recognized during PA Week

A group of physician assistants stand ready

A group of physician assistants stand ready at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, October 8, 2001. Physician Assistant Week was established in order to highlight the work physician assistants do to keep the U.S. Air Force fit to fight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Douglas Lorance)

Capt. Amber Tordoff, 51st Operational Medical Readiness Squadron physician assistant, inspects a patient

Capt. Amber Tordoff, 51st Operational Medical Readiness Squadron physician assistant, inspects a patient at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, October 8, 2001. Physician assistants are capable of providing a variety of general medicine clinical care in order to keep up with the medical demands of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Douglas Lorance)

Maj. Jimmy Lam, 51st Operational Medical Readiness Squadron base operational medical clinic chief, shows a physician assistant how to apply a tourniquet

Maj. Jimmy Lam, 51st Operational Medical Readiness Squadron base operational medical clinic chief, shows a physician assistant how to apply a tourniquet at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, October 8, 2001. The physician assistant program was created in 1967 in order to meet the increased medical demands of the U.S. military during conflicts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Douglas Lorance)

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --

Every year, the medical community designates the first week of October as Physician Assistant Week. The week celebrates the contributions of physicians working on the installation. 

The physician assistants working on the installations are often overlooked and chances are every Airman has met with one and may not have realized their specific job title. 

“A lot of times people go see their medical provider and even if we introduce ourselves as a physician assistant, they will refer to us as ‘their doctor’ when talking to others,” said Capt. Amber Tordoff, 51st Operational Medical Readiness Squadron physician assistant. “They don’t always understand the difference.”

The physician assistant program was founded in 1967 by Dr. Eugene Stead to create a new class of medical providers that could be trained in general clinical care in less time to meet the demands of war time medicine. 

“Physician assistants were actually created because of wars,” said Maj. Jimmy Lam, 51st Operational Medical Readiness Squadron base operational medical clinic chief. “The U.S. military needed general medicine clinicians faster than the seven years of training required for the average doctor.”

The physician assistant program soon spread from the military into the civilian sector, especially dense areas where there are never enough doctors. However, there are limits to their responsibilities to account for their reduced training time. 

“There’s certain things we can and can’t do,” said Tordoff. “For example, a physician assistant can’t be a primary surgeon, but we can still assist surgeons or perform less invasive procedures on our own.”

Physician assistants do not have all the same roles and responsibilities as a physician, but still maintain a busy working pace. This can cause them to lose sight of the rich history of their job and its importance to the military. In order to make sure their efforts go unnoticed, Physician Assistant Week is a constant reminder of the roles and responsibilities of the PA.

“Physician Assistant Week gives a chance to take a step and remember our roots and gives us an opportunity to look at our future,” said Lam. “It gives me an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a physician assistant.”

As Physician Assistant Week comes to a close, physician assistants are in every large medical facility performing duties to help meet the constant medical demands of the Department of Defense. 

“At the end of the day, physician assistants are everywhere,” said Lam. “They’re not just running clinics, they’re roaming the halls of the pentagon and they’re executive officers too.”