2021 Military Service Award Recipient Helps Others Reach Their Top Potential
Col. James Jones Has Represented PAs at the Highest Levels of Government
May 26, 2021
By Sarah Blugis
Colonel James J. Jones, PhD, PA-C, the 2021 recipient of the Military Service Award, was inspired to pursue a career in medicine after joining the U.S. Army more than 32 years ago. Military PA school, he says, was his path to helping others, being part of a team, and providing stability for his family. As a PA, Jones has made it his life’s work to help others reach their top potential and to improve the military and civilian PA profession.
The Military Service Award recognizes a veteran or active-duty PA who demonstrates exemplary healthcare service and exemplifies the PA profession’s philosophy of providing accessible, quality healthcare to current members of the military, veterans, or a medically underserved community.
Over the last year, Jones has served as the branch chief of the largest PA program in the world: the Interservice Physician Assistant Program (IPAP), which averages 480 students in both the didactic year and clinical rotations. He is also an associate professor, teaching cardiology to students from all military branches.
“As an educator, I teach my students that there are three kinds of people: those who are immovable, those who are moveable, and those who move them,” Jones says. “As PAs, we must move toward excellence and help our patients and fellow PAs achieve their life’s goals.”
Before his appointment to IPAP, Jones’ career took him where few PAs have worked: the White House. As a White House PA, he developed and implemented the White House Tactical Medical Officer Fellowship in 2009 and the White House Medical Unit’s telehealth program in 2012.
Then, in 2014, the physician to the president selected Jones to be the first PA to serve as the deputy director and chief of protective medicine in the White House Medical Unit, serving the president and vice president of the United States. In 2016, he was appointed as the PA to the president and served as President Obama’s primary care manager.
In addition to caring for the president, vice president, their families, and other senior government officials, Jones traveled to more than 94 countries, planning medical contingency operations for both official presidential and vice presidential visits.
While serving on a presidential detail with the Secret Service in Peru in 2016, hiking at 18,000 feet in the Andes Mountains, Jones rescued a Secret Service agent who was suffering from exposure to the high elevation. For this action, he became the first non-Secret Service agent and the first PA to be awarded the United States Secret Service Lifesaving Award.
Jones’ training as a PA, he says, allowed him to provide emergent and urgent care to countless people during his experiences traveling abroad. One of the most rewarding events in his career was serving in Operation Hands together with military chaplains, building houses in Mexico and vaccinating the underserved.
“Our top leaders in the U.S. government, Department of Defense, and our nation routinely recognize the value that PAs bring to healthcare,” Jones says. “It is humbling and extremely rewarding that our nation’s top leaders at the White House recognize the value of our profession, our contributions to team delivery of healthcare, and our impact on patient care.”
In March of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, Jones was appointed as the chief medical advisor, Executive Office of the President. In that role, he worked with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Defense to provide input on COVID-19 preventive practices and to help implement clinical practice guidelines at the White House.
Jones’ awards include the Presidential Support Badge, Defense Superior Service Medal, Bronze Star Medal, and Meritorious Service Medal. He has lectured both nationally and internationally and is the first PA editor-in-chief at StatPearls for cardiology.
His greatest honor, Jones says, is caring for patients and helping them improve their quality of life. “PAs have an incredible opportunity to influence healthcare delivery around the globe and provide care to large sectors of the population,” he says. “When I look at our profession, it brings me great joy to be a part of this amazing team! Who wouldn’t want to be a PA?”