Physician assistant master’s program revealed by Thorp

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UNC president Thomas Ross and Col. Peter Benson shake hands as they exchange coins in honor of military tradition and of the new health care effort.

On Monday, Chancellor Holden Thorp unveiled the plans for a program that will enlist veterans to help solve some of the state’s most pressing health care needs.

The UNC School of Medicine’s physician assistant master’s program, which is designed to help special forces medical sergeants transition into civilian health care, is expected to accept its first class of students by 2015.

Dr. Bruce Cairns, director of the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center, has been intimately involved in the process since the idea for the program began three years ago.

“My first and foremost goal, without a doubt, is recognizing and honoring the commitment of those who have served in the military, particularly in the last decade,” he said.

With the looming shortage of health care providers, military medics with a history of serving in austere conditions will be instrumental in providing care to underserved areas, he said.

Almost 1 million North Carolinians live in areas with limited access to health care, said Brad Wilson, president and CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina.

Wilson said the company will provide $1.2 million in funding throughout the next four years to develop the curriculum, hire staff and provide scholarships.

Thorp said he is proud of the University for being part of an initiative that will continue its tradition of working with the armed forces.

“In every war throughout history it has taken a special amount of courage to enter the battlefield and save lives,” he said.

The program will solicit input on many levels from the Joint Special Operations Medical Training Center at Fort Bragg.

Col. Peter Benson, deputy chief of staff surgeon with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, said people often don’t understand the skills special forces medics possess. He said the intense training program prepares them to deliver care independently.

Wilson said more than 90 percent of these soldiers want to work in health care after their military service.

“Special forces medical sergeants want the opportunity to take what they’ve learned to the field of North Carolina for deployment,” Wilson said.

Sgt. 1st Class Eric Strand, the liaison for advanced medical instructor training at Fort Bragg, said he expects high demand for the new program.

“Guys have been beating on my door for the last year and a half,” he said.

During the closing ceremony, Dr. Cairns reminisced about President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 speech at UNC, in which he mentioned the state’s continued commitment to the military.

“We believe we are honoring a request made by President Kennedy over 50 years ago,” he said.

Contact the desk editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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