When Mario Riportella went looking for a new PA job, he was interested in getting a little more autonomy. And who can blame him?
In 2005, Riportella, a Navy SEAL at the time, was in charge of triaging nearly 200 military personnel in the midst of Operation Red Wings, a search and rescue operation later dramatized in the film Lone Survivor. As Riportella recounted, altitude sickness, exhaustion, and other difficult conditions in the Korengal Valley, the mountainous zone along the Afghan-Pakistan border, made it difficult for many of the officers and enlisted personnel to continue.
Their goal was a helicopter that had been shot down, killing eight American servicemen. The helicopter had been deployed as part of a rapid response team to rescue four Navy SEALs who had been pinned down by a Taliban ambush. Three had been killed, and the fourth, Marcus Luttrell, wrote the book, of the same title, on which the film was eventually based. All together, 19 American servicemen were killed in Operation Red Wings. Riportella, as a medic on SEAL Team 6, was responsible for making sure members of the rescue operation didn’t add to that total by dying of heat, exhaustion, or altitude.
“My team gave me the go-ahead to triage as we went,” Riportella said. “I had to say when people were a go or a no-go. During that time we were trying to move as fast we could, and make decisions on certain personnel, and if they were holding us back we had to say that some people couldn’t continue.”
Riportella spent 15 and a half years active duty, much of that time as a SEAL. He was deployed in South America doing counter-narcotics, learned Spanish, and after 9/11 was redeployed on assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
From the start, he was drawn to being a medic. In order to qualify for the elite SEAL Team 6, Riportella, already a medic, had to attend a more advanced medical training course. The six-month intensive course was closely analogous to PA school, but with a focus on trauma and field medicine. Riportella had always thought his medical training would be good preparation for a career in medicine once back in civilian life.
In 2009, that time came. “My wife and I were pretty burned out,” he said. Plus, he was pushing 40, and the physical demands of being a SEAL were starting to wear on him. He decided to attend PA school and was accepted to Eastern Virginia Medical School, in Norfolk, where he’d been based out of for much of his career. After school he considered going back on active deployment, but by that time he and his wife had become too used to reservist life.
Riportella took jobs in Cincinnati, where he is originally from. One of his first was in trauma surgery at a hospital known for an academic program attended by many Air Force veterans. He liked practicing in an academic setting, but eventually Riportella made the switch to emergency medicine. He enjoyed the first group he worked for, but eventually starting hearing about US Acute Care Solutions, in particular its push to give its Advanced Practice Providers more autonomy in the ER.
For a former Navy SEAL, this was just what Riportella was looking for. “I was looking for a lot of autonomy, and to actually build a practice that you could customize your skill sets. In my previous job, I was lucky enough to be a high-performing member of the team, but they had a lot of restrictions on the PA scope of practice,” Riportella said. “I wanted to operate to the maximum of my ability, and USACS has shown they are really committed to that.”
Riportella cited a number of factors that drove his decision, including USACS’ commitment to developing local and regional APP leadership. “When leadership personnel is making decisions it’s nice to have folks at the table who really understand how it’s going to impact the day to day of my life. I have confidence that APPs have a real seat at the table.” He was also drawn to the robust educational programs dedicated to developing APP skill sets. “It’s more than rhetoric,” he said. “They’ve demonstrated a commitment to APP development, and they’ve put programs in place.”
But maybe the biggest parallel Riportella drew between what USACS does and what appealed to him, and his background in the military, was the company’s ability to deal with constant change. “Military folks are very accustomed adjusting quickly to new situations and new environments, and that’s something that allows them to excel in their military career, and that will allow them to excel in emergency medicine as well,” he said. “We’re a company that doesn’t shy away from change. We embrace it, recognize that it’s inevitable, and are preparing ourselves to make better decisions so that change is more easily negotiated.”