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Major Dan Hankes, M.S., MPAS, remembers crouching in the back of darkened helicopters by night, helping special ops flight paramedics provide combat trauma care in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was probably the most thrilling point in his career.
“Our spec-ops flight medics do everything,” Hankes says. “Chest tubes to drain fluids, emergency cricothyrotomies to open airways, venous cut downs and interosseous procedures to get vascular access in trauma patents — you name it, they can do it.”
And the pilots and air crew? Well, Hankes was a member of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the organization known as the Night Stalkers, famously depicted in the movie Black Hawk Down. They provide special operations and medical support. “They’re the best helicopter pilots in the world; they’re the ‘Top Gun’ of the Army,” he says.
Hankes, like many MEDEX Northwest graduates — he was in Yakima Class 7 — had an interest in the military before he earned a degree as a physician assistant. In fact, Hankes began his military career with five years as a U.S. Navy Corpsman, a period that took him to Bremerton, Wash., Camp Lejeune, N.C., Zagreb, Croatia, and Okinawa, Japan.
Then, when he opted to pursue further medical training, he couldn’t decide between medical school and MEDEX Northwest, UW Medicine’s PA program. That’s when Hankes’ dad — a doctor, former Navy flight surgeon and Vietnam veteran — stepped in with his vote: become a PA.
His father’s influence, the prospect of completing his education faster, being able to return to active duty sooner — that tipped the balance in favor of MEDEX. And while in school, Hankes spent most of his clinical year in Alaska.
“There aren’t enough physicians to go around in Alaska. So you have PAs who function, essentially, as the town doctor in very remote locations,” says Hankes. “You need to be able to function on your own and make big decisions with little to no guidance.”
Having accepted a National Health Service Corps scholarship, Hankes headed to a U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) post to fulfill his service requirement as a PHS Commissioned Corps officer after graduation. After several years in PHS, Hankes made a “blue to green” inter-service transfer to the U.S. Army in 2008, first joining the storied 82nd Airborne Division, followed by the 160th.
Then Hankes served as the PA assignment officer and career manager at the Army’s Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Although he found it extremely rewarding to mentor more junior PAs, he found himself missing hands-on patient care. Today, Hankes is happy to be treating patients again as the chief of soldier health services for Blanchfield Army Community Hospital at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
“I’m a healthcare provider by morning and a staff officer by afternoon, in that order,” he says, smiling. “I get the best of both worlds here, but soldier care comes first — it’s our No. 1 priority.”