PA students hear first-hand accounts of life after war and related health concerns

PA program
New Haven’s Michael Hawley, who served with the Army in Iraq, discusses veterans’ health issues as part of an Urban Service Track Learning Retreat held at Quinnipiac.

March 19, 2014 - A group of physician assistant students recently heard first-hand from veterans about their experiences in war and the resulting health consequences.

"Coming home was worse than Iraq," said Brookfield's Brian Barkman, who served with the Connecticut Army National Guard. "I'm way better today than I was when I left, but it took a long time to get there."

Barkman and Army veteran Michael Hawley of New Haven both discussed the importance of receiving quality health care.  

"If I didn't have a support group or people around me to help point me in the right direction, I probably would have killed myself," Hawley said. "At this point, I'm pretty happy."

The visit was part of an Urban Service Track Learning Retreat held March 14 at Quinnipiac. The track, an interprofessional learning program for students focused on primary care and care to underserved populations, is a collaboration between 18 Quinnipiac physician assistant students and students from the University of Connecticut.

The program includes eight retreats a year and focuses on vulnerable populations such as immigrants, children, patients with HIV and AIDS as well as care for the elderly. The March 14 topic was "Quality Improvement and Veterans."

About 50 students attended the 4 ½ hour retreat held at Quinnipiac's Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences on the North Haven Campus. Dr. Lucile Burgo-Black and Dr. Juliette Spelman of the Veterans Affair Medical Center in West Haven outlined the Veterans Administration health care system as well as the special needs of veterans, the importance of interprofessional care and quality improvement initiatives.  

Barkman and Hawley then joined fellow veterans Shepard Stone, a retired aviation medicine PA in the Connecticut Air National Guard, and Lisa Marie Griffiths, a retired Navy nurse and UConn nursing faculty member, for a panel discussion.

Following a question-and-answer period, the students were divided into small interprofessional groups and given an actual case study about a veteran in need of comprehensive dental care. Students had to identify and prioritize the issues, determine what members of the team were needed to provide care and then work collaboratively to develop an action plan to best address the patient's needs. The goal of the exercise was to foster interprofessional and interdisciplinary cooperation.

Karin Berger, a first-year PA student, said the latest Urban Service Track Learning Retreat was the best so far.

"There was an educational portion, actual veterans on the panel and a case that let us dive into issues in different areas of medicine," Berger said. "I'm interested in working with underserved populations and veterans' medicine is a whole area that was completely foreign to me."