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Nicholas Wiley, PA-C, graduate of the Physician Assistant Studies program and veteran of the United States Navy, has returned to UNC as an assistant professor in the PA program. Wiley served as a Special Operations Independent Duty Corpsman in the military before enrolling at UNC.

“I was initially going to school to study civil engineering but found that it wasn’t a right fit for me at that time. I decided to make a change, and I enlisted in the Navy,” said Wiley. “Military service had always interested me, and I wanted to explore the world. The military provided a great opportunity in that I could see countries and do things that aren’t available otherwise.”

After being assigned to Fort Liberty and spending a month at the Jaycee Burn Center, Wiley had an amazing experience and felt supported by his colleagues. He decided to pursue a career in healthcare, and UNC’s PA program was his first choice based on his experiences.

The UNC Physician Assistant Studies Program was founded in partnership and agreement with Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Liberty, and the program has a long history of coordination with the military. The program encourages veterans from all areas of the U.S. Armed Forces to apply, with special admissions preference given to veterans who served in a medical capacity in the military, particularly Special Forces and Special Operations Medics.

Though the two-year program was intense, Wiley enjoyed the environment that promoted answering questions and exploring medicine. “You have the time to be curious. Working as a PA is time-consuming and it can be hard to find the time to study or learn,” he said. “Being in the PA program meant being in a place where you have time to ask questions and access experts who could answer them.”

After graduating from the program, Wiley applied to an opening at the Jaycee Burn Center and has been there since. He explains, “I enjoyed the burn specialty during my time in the military and it’s an area I continue to find fulfillment working in.”

After working at the Jaycee Burn Center, Wiley made his return to the PA program to teach the next generation of physician assistants. “While I was in the military I was an instructor at the Special Operations Combat Medic course for four years,” he said.  “I found education to be fun and challenging, and the students there were incredibly motivated and dedicated. No matter how much knowledge you have, students will always find questions to ask that make you step back and say ‘I don’t know.’ It’s a challenge that forces you to be a better provider in order to be a better instructor. I enjoyed that environment and is why I always hoped I could return to education.”

Wiley shares advice for other nontraditional students, particularly veterans, as they consider pursuing further education in physician assistant studies or another health sciences profession.

“There is an old saying in the military about proper planning leading to a desired outcome and it would apply to this as well,” he said. “Figure out what you want to do, and anticipate it taking years to complete, but potentially years to set up. Have a plan with backups because goals and opportunities change over time.”

He also encourages veterans to explore the resources that are available for transitioning out of the military. There are many programs both on and outside of UNC’s campus to assist veterans during this stressful time of change.