“Our commissioned officers are doing amazing things at a very junior rank, flying from Lakeland, Florida, to Bethel Alaska. The unit places them in charge of figuring out the mission’s logistics, how they are going to refuel the aircraft, how they are going to assign crews and scientists, and their transportation. It’s a lot of responsibility.”
Joe Newcomb, PA-C, is Director of Aviation Medicine with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and medically supports those who study hurricanes, snow melts, and performs coastal mapping. “The most interesting part of my job is flying through hurricanes. When you come up through the eyewall, and you see the blue skies above, and all around you is a wall of violent storm. NOAA has completely geared the WP3 aircraft to fly through these conditions.”
PA Newcomb’s current responsibilities include ensuring that 300+ NOAA officers are healthy enough to fly these great distances, “I am also in charge of their primary care – and most recently, given the pandemic, I also evaluate a lot of their families’ issues. PAs are versatile like that.”
NOAA is currently sponsoring him through the DMSc to further his education. “They brought me in to develop the Aerospace Medical Department and everything I have learned academically so far in the DMSc I have been able to apply directly and immediately to my current position.” Such as implement an Electronic Health Record program for NOAA.
He explains: “I used the methods I learned in my first semester of the DMSc program to develop a viral surveillance protocol.” The protocol is being used for NOAA pilots and air crew. “Unfortunately, there is no real social isolation you can do in an aircraft. The pilot and the navigator cannot wear PPE because of the instant need to put on oxygen if the cabin depressurizes, and also the need to be able to communicate clearly at all times. This is why we developed the surveillance program. We test every single person who comes into the building once a week; flyers are tested every 5 days.”
PA Newcomb has an aviation background and has been in military service for 34 years. He completed PA school through the U.S. Army. He is commissioned in the U.S. Public Health Service. He recounts, “Right after PA school, I was sent to the bush in Alaska for two and a half years. In the remote areas of Alaska, there are no road systems connecting villages, and the providers in the community health centers there all function very independently.” He says that in the Alaskan bush, PAs and NPs function as the 24 hour urgent and emergency medicine providers, along with being the local family practice providers. He explains, “A great example is that in one particular day, I did a prenatal exam at 6 a.m., and did a post mortem exam at 6 p.m. the same day. Literally it is cradle to grave medicine.”
As far as his future is concerned, PA Newcomb envisions a possible return to Alaska, “I would like to go back to Alaska, work part time as a PA, and teach health sciences in a community college setting. Again, having a doctorate will be necessary for that. There are a few other possibilities on the horizon, but a doctoral education, specifically the DMSc, fits perfectly into all of them.”