Student Veteran Blog: Greg Reinhart
Monday, December 17, 2018
In 2009, I was notified that my close friend, and fellow Navy Corpsman (medic) was killed in action, and as the designated combat casualty replacement, I would be replacing him immediately. A week later, I found myself in northeastern Kunar province, Afghanistan — 50 miles from the hostile Pakistan border. I was the primary medical provider for four fellow Marines and 30 Afghan National Army soldiers on our small combat outpost. Our mission was to embed with these local soldiers and mentor them on tactics and leadership, as well as conduct regular patrols and missions with them.
Our combat outpost was utterly remote, and separated from the nearest base by tall mountain passes that were the beginning of the Hindu Kush. The terrain was profoundly beautiful, and its people were equally as unique with a rich history and culture, but plagued by decades of war. This unique terrain and culture, along with our mission to mentor the Afghan soldiers, allowed me to get up close and personal with many of the local population that have been tucked away in the mountains for hundreds of years — many of which had never seen a doctor in their entire life. My training however, was focused on the expectations of combat and did not prepare me for the chronic, yet devastating, medical conditions I would encounter on our patrols and key leader engagements.
The next several months of my deployment would prove to be some of the toughest months of my life. At 20 years old I was tasked with the care of my fellow Marines, the care of the Afghan soldiers, and I was expected to mentor them on combat casualty care and first aid. If this were not enough, I would be depended upon more and more for any medical help I could provide to local villagers — both young and old. I was presented with local villagers suffering from effects of Leprosy, congenital diseases, severe burns, wounds from previous wars, and myriad of other diseases that I was simply not trained to manage or handle. I had a deep desire to help solve many of their medical issues, but lacked the knowledge, training, and experience to provide to them. In the end, I did what I could to help with what I had, but this experience would prove to be a defining moment in my life.
The desire to learn and gain experience would spill over into the remaining years of my active duty service in the Navy, and I had the great privilege of working with several PAs who would enrich my knowledge and training. One thing I noticed about military PAs was that they truly embraced a learning-centered environment and took every opportunity to educate me about certain diseases or cases. This characteristic of military PAs was no coincidence, either, as my Duke emergency medicine rotation preceptor (former military) was easily my favorite preceptor who also embraced this same mentorship mentality, allowing me to gain the most from my rotation.
Coming from a hardworking family that never had the money or time to pursue higher education, I never would have thought about obtaining a bachelor’s degree, let alone a master’s degree in anything. However, after leaving the Navy, getting married, and having two children, my desire to provide the care I once could not give, would come back. Eventually I would learn that the first PAs were actually prior combat corpsmen like myself, and Dr. Eugene Stead believed that this prior experience would be the perfect foundation of which to build advanced medical knowledge upon. I also learned that Dr. Stead started the program at Duke University, and while the program now takes advantage of many other diverse routes of prior experience, it still highly values prior military corpsmen and medics.
This added knowledge, combined with my prior experience working with PAs would seal the deal, and from that point on I knew I wanted to go to Duke to become a physician assistant. With persistence, this idea would come to fruition, and I am now honored and privileged to be following the example of my fellow service members by attending the Duke Physician Assistant Program.
Greg Reinhart is a second-year student with the Duke Physician Assistant Program. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions. Editor’s note: Duke Physician Assistant Program students blog twice a month. Blogs represent the opinion of the author, not the Duke Physician Assistant Program, the Department of Community and Family Medicine or Duke University.