January 8, 2023

Wells Holbrook '07 Saves Lives in East Tennessee

Wells Holbrook has only been a physician assistant at DispatchHealth for a year, but saving people’s lives and looking out for their health is something he’s been doing his whole career.

Before he was volunteering his time with the search and rescue team for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Holbrook spent years in the military, training Air Force pilots in survival, evasion and resistance skills.

Holbrook’s commitment to the health and safety of East Tennesseans extends to providing urgent care for patients in their homes, and in the wilderness.

When you reflect on your career so far, which achievement stands out most?

Graduating from PA school. Completing Air Force SERE Specialist Training is harder overall and a much rarer achievement, but in the military it was my only responsibility – clothing, food, and housing were covered so I could focus exclusively on training – and I was single then. Being admitted and completing PA school was the culmination of an ambitious plan when I left active duty in 2018. The odds of everything coming together were not in my favor; I had no background in science or experience in healthcare, and I was starting from scratch in my 30’s with children.

What is the greatest professional obstacle you’ve had to overcome and how did you overcome it?

In becoming an Air Force SERE Specialist, I had already survived two cuts that wash out about 75% and 50% of candidates, respectively. After graduating, we still had another six months to a year to certify as instructors. A series of trainers gave different, sometimes conflicting advice, all of which I tried to incorporate. At year’s end, they weren’t happy and I was nearly cut from the career. One final trainer helped me strip back to basics and focus purely on the standard, and I nailed it after that. That taught me that it’s crucial to master and revisit fundamentals.

What will you focus on in 2023?

The next steps will be the evolution of my career in national service from the Tennessee Air National Guard to the Uniformed Public Health Service, where I intend to build on my skills as a physician assistant by deploying to humanitarian relief and disaster response efforts across the nation. I’m a young PA still honing my craft but I look forward to continuing to integrate my military experience with my passion for teaching, search and rescue, and wilderness medicine, while adding these new capabilities in disaster medicine and finding novel ways to serve through this new role.

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