Duty Calls and Answers

David Thompson, MPAS, PA-C, serves as Lead APC at Novant Health Clemmons Medical Center’s Emergency Department and was recently celebrated at Sicily Drop Zone on Fort Bragg, NC with a Retirement Ceremony that ended with parachutes landing on the DZ.  A native of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Thompson plans to continue consulting with various companies that specialize in pre-hospital and military medicine. He is a Doctor of Medical Science Candidate at the University of Lynchburg and is working on his first novel.

When David Thompson, MPAS, PA-C, reports to the ER his performance exemplifies a grace-under-pressure style honed by years of experience working in extremely difficult circumstances, including deployments around the world in combat and in support of combat operations. His patients benefit from the laser focus of a highly skilled PA who also happens to be a decorated, high-ranking officer in the U. S. Armed Forces. Colonel William David Thompson III retires from United States Army this year after 36 years of service, carrying forward with him unmatched experience and a lifetime of stories.

Heed the Call

Thompson views military service as a family tradition. “I joined the Army six weeks after I turned 17 and my parents signed the papers,” he reveals. “Most of the

 men in my family have served in the military in some capacity. My father and my youngest brother are both Marines, my middle brother and I were both paratroopers. We all had a desire to serve. I think this path was laid out for me. The Army has a soldier-for-life mentality and once you serve, you continue to always serve. As an officer, there is no expiration date on my oath of office or on my commission; that’s a lifetime commitment to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. I take that very seriously.”

He also takes seriously his commitment to his medical profession. Thompson holds a true passion for emergency medicine as a specialty. “I like the variety,” he says. “When I was younger, I liked the adrenaline, but it’s funny how a little bit of gray hair and wisdom goes a long way. I like taking care of the very acute things. People who go to the ER are already having a lousy day, and you’ve got about five seconds to make a good impression. I thrive in that environment. I like the sense of immediacy.”

Call to Action

An ApolloMD clinician for three years now, Thompson recalls one of his first nights in the Kernersville ER, “A car pulled up with the back window shot out and a young kid had been shot in the back…we dragged him in and worked on him for a while. I put a couple of chest tubes in him while Dr. Sullivan intubated him. I’m there on one of my first shifts trying to make a good impression, and luckily my trauma and combat experience allowed me to work as a member of the team immediately. Nobody plans to be in the ER, no matter what you’re talking about, so you must greet somebody at the very last place they want to be. I had an experience early on in my military career where an F16 hit a C-141 full of guys … killed 24 guys and injured over a 100, horrible burns. Another time, a USMC artillery piece blew up, injuring over 20 marines. Some days, no matter how crazy the ER gets, I think ‘Hey, guess what — I’m not reliving that day’. I realize that I’ve been through worse, so today will be okay. We can all get through this if we take a deep breath, take another step, and just keep going.”

Growing up, Thompson seemed naturally drawn to the medical field favoring television shows like Emergency! and M*A*S*H for entertainment. He shares a core memory that he notes for it’s prescience, “I still remember as a child falling off the monkey bars, busting my chin open, going over to a doctor’s house on a weekend where he sewed me up, and being completely fascinated by all of it. At first [upon joining the service], I was an Army medic, but I wanted to be a fighter, so I trained as an infantryman.”

During his undergraduate years, he worked as a surgical technician in a Level II Trauma Center while also going through ROTC; he was a Distinguished Military Graduate and earned his bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy. After college, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, Medical Service Corps before being assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. As he advanced in his service and rank, more leadership opportunities would land in his direct path and incredible mentors would continue to influence him. “Getting the chance to meet great leaders like that at a really young age was very pivotable for me as far as my drive to continue learning about leadership to move forward with my career along that way. I [also] realized that I wanted to actually do medicine, so I applied to PA school.”

Call of Duty

Upon completing the Physician Assistant Program at Wake Forest University’s Bowman-Gray School of Medicine, Thompson shifted into the hospital full time, developing his career as a Physician Assistant while continuing Army life in the Reserve. “I was loving it! It was fun to put a uniform back on once a month and then come home. Then, my youngest daughter was born on September 10th, 2001, and the next day, on September 11th, the world came crashing down. There are some people that are born to be Soldiers and I think I’m one of those people. The pull to get involved was heavy.”

Involved he became, deploying to Afghanistan for 17 months, and involved he remained, going wherever called — from post-Katrina Louisiana to Special Operations assignments in South Korea, Bahrain and beyond. For these last two decades, Thompson maintained both his medical career and his military service. “I’ve had a very successful Reserve career, but it took a lot of time away from my family while my kids were at a very young age,” he confesses. “I was committed to special operations … and continued to practice clinically as a PA all the time. I got promoted early to Lieutenant Colonel and was selected to command a medical unit on Fort Bragg. That experience was probably one of the greatest leadership experiences I’ve ever had.”

Last Call

By 2014, he was back home in the Winston-Salem area working in general surgery and promoted to full Colonel. He brings that warrior spirit with him into the

ER, treating the environment with a similar mentality to that which he absorbed in military training. “In some ways it’s the same job,” he assesses.

“My job is to take good care of people and sometimes that is in really bad places and sometimes it’s in an emergency department. So do the job with excellence. I try to be the calmest person in the room. I try to never raise my voice and if I do there’s a reason for it. I try to be a good professional example on shifts. I fail at times — we all do, you know, we’re humans.”

His leadership strengths prevail in the hospital as he assumes the role of Lead APC at Novant Clemmons ED, using his expertise to guide a vigorous and talented team.

For Thompson, retirement from the Army hardly means disconnection. “I’ll continue to do things with the military,” he confirms. “I do some consulting to help train special operations surgical teams. I love that job. I get to be the guy with gray hair in the background working with some of these younger commanders. It’s interesting that those lessons I learned as a 20-year-old Sergeant, or as a 22-year-old Lieutenant were lifelong lessons. You know, there are things that we learned how to do in kindergarten, and there are things I learned how to do in infantry school and from my trusty Ranger Handbook that will always need to be retaught and relearned by newer generations of soldiers.”

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