July 21, 2021
Col. Richard Villarreal Helps to Shape Future Military Clinicians
By Sarah Blugis
April 27, 2020
Colonel Richard A. Villarreal, PhD, PA-C, the 2020 recipient of the Military Service Award, has served in the military for 37 years – and for 27 of those years, as a PA. He learned about the PA profession as a young soldier medic, he says, on his first unit assignment in the Army. The battalion’s medical officer, a PA, taught him the importance of “training to know your craft” and training those around you, as well.
Shortly after joining the Army, then-Private Villarreal began working on his pre-requisites to apply to the Army PA program – now known as the Interservice Physician Assistant Program (IPAP) – and after three military moves and seven years, he applied and was accepted.
“The gratification that I get from taking care of service members, their families, and all Department of Defense beneficiaries is hard to describe,” Villarreal says, “but it is a feeling like nothing else I have experienced.”
The Military Service Award honors veteran or active duty PAs who have demonstrated exemplary healthcare service to their community, to current members of the military or veterans, or to the medically underserved.
“Servicemen and women are willing to do their jobs in austere environments and without hesitation to give the ultimate sacrifice for their country,” Villarreal says. “The most rewarding aspect of being a PA for me is to alleviate pain and treat illness. It is an honor to do it for those that defend or have defended the United States of America.”
After becoming a PA, Villarreal was selected in 1998 to attend the Physician Assistant Orthopaedic Surgery Fellowship at Madigan Army Medical Center. He later became the Program Director for the PA Orthopaedic Residency at Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. In December of 2006, he graduated with a PhD from the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas.
Since then, Villarreal has served as a PA instructor and IPAP Branch Chief, a staff officer in the Clinical Services Division of the US Army Medical Command, Battalion Commander of Troop Command North at Walter Reed Bethesda, and the PA Program Director for the IPAP – the largest PA training program in the world. Currently, Villarreal is the Dean of Academics for the Medical Education & Training Campus. As Dean, he oversees 49 enlisted medical training programs with students from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marines.
“On any given day, there will be approximately 5,500 students on campus, with an average yearly graduation of 16,500 students,” Villarreal says. “The work environment is joint in nature, so not only do the students come from all services, but so do the staff.”
Villarreal has multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In western Afghanistan, he served as the Deputy Commander of a NATO hospital. There, he organized and taught classes in orthopaedic trauma, extremity stabilization, and splinting. With NATO partners, classes were taught in five languages.
Throughout his career, Villarreal has always made time to go above and beyond in serving others. As a Captain while stationed in Korea from 1994 to 1996, he volunteered and taught basic life support and first aid to the community, along with students in the Department of Defense Middle and High School. In 2001, he volunteered to assist with a hand surgery mission to Honduras, where the volunteer team evaluated 150 patients and performed almost 70 hand surgeries over a two-week period.
Villarreal has also volunteered as a First Aid teacher for the Boy Scouts of America, a martial arts instructor for underprivileged children in San Antonio, Texas, and a women and children’s self-defense instructor.
For Villarreal, his career has never been about recognition – it has been about serving his country and caring for patients. He is proud to take care of America’s military force. Now, as the Dean at METC, he is proud to have a hand in shaping the careers of future military clinicians, including PAs.
“I cannot think of a greater profession that I, and many of my brothers and sisters, have devoted our lives to, serving our country and healing our fellow man,” Villarreal says.