Written by Sarah Shelley | Content Development Specialist

For the first time in the history of University of the Cumberlands’ Williamsburg physician assistant (PA) program, representatives from Air Evac Lifeteam flew a helicopter onto campus for the students to have a simulated experience of transferring a patient to the helicopter and become familiar with how to maneuver in the limited space a chopper provides while simultaneously administering life-saving care.

The helicopter landed in a parking lot on the outskirts of Cumberlands’ Williamsburg campus. After waiting for the turbines to cool and the propellor blades to stop and lower, students were welcomed onto the chopper to familiarize themselves with the layout of the space and the available healthcare tools and machinery within the vehicle.

Air Evac Lifeteam (AEL) is a nationwide business. The experts from AEL who visited Cumberlands’ Williamsburg campus are based out of Corbin, Kentucky, at Baptist Health Hospital. They service multiple nearby counties (including Whitley County, in which Williamsburg is located). The UC Williamsburg PA faculty and staff were grateful to AEL for offering their time and expertise to provide this opportunity for the students.

Joe Bradshaw, program director at AEL – 79 (Corbin), said, “Medical care is all just one big chain held together by links. Air medical, like us, is one of those links that help put the chain completely together so that patient care – whether it starts out in the country or on the side of the road at a car wreck – that patient has a safe way to move up the chain, so to speak, from that location to a hospital that can help them. Air medical does everything from routine transfer from one clinic or hospital to another, all the way to stabilizing someone in an emergency medical situation. Events like this, bringing a helicopter onto campus, is good familiarization for these students.”

For the past few years, members of Air Evac Lifeteam have visited Cumberlands to teach PA students classes on advanced life support. The students complete certifications in these areas, and, soon enough, they are required to pass a trauma final as part of the required PA school curriculum. This year, AEL took things up a notch and brought a helicopter onto campus. The excitement was palpable.

“We really appreciate the air evac team. They help us a lot,” said Kenzie Jones, PA student. “When they started tossing around the idea of doing this event, we all got excited. Our professors were excited too. This is an opportunity some other PA programs don’t get, and it gives us real-world examples of how to do these things.”

Jones is interested in pursuing emergency medicine as a future PA, so the event was extra appealing to her.

“In air evac, you have an emergency situation where you’re literally trying to save somebody’s life, you’re in a tight space, there is so much going on, and it is a high-pressure situation,” she said. “It’s amazing what air medics can accomplish.”

Jones’ friend and fellow PA student Juliette DePhilippis had a more humorous take on the value of the event.

“For the last year, we’ve been buried behind books. So, this, right now, is really fun!” DePhillipis said. “It is very valuable to have an introduction to this and see a helicopter. I’ve never been around that before, so it’s completely new for me. Knowing we are going into clinical rotations next month, having hands-on experience like this is completely invaluable.”

University of the Cumberlands hosts a PA program in Williamsburg as well as a separate PA program in Florence, Kentucky. Both programs have experienced noteworthy success in recent years, such as a 100 percent PANCE pass rate for both programs in 2023. For more information about Cumberlands’ PA programs, visit www.ucumberlands.edu/academics.