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Thinking with the Right Side of My Collar

07/14/2013, 11:30pm EDT
By LT Samantha E. Letizio, PT, DPT

Comfortable in Camouflage

Making the transition from civilian to Active Duty Navy PT!

LT Samantha E. Letizio, PT, DPT

LT Samantha E. Letizio, PT, DPT

“Get up, get on the line—GET UP and get on the LINE!” I struggled awake. It was 0430, day two of Officer Development School, and I could not fathom how I had come to be exactly there, exactly then. Just a few weeks prior, I had been treating patients at the prestigious New England Baptist Hospital in Boston, MA, and now I was getting yelled at to “get on my face” (push-ups) for not yelling “Aye, Chief!” loud enough. All I could think of was my friends in their beds, waiting for their alarm clocks to go off so that they could commute into their respective clinics and treat their respective patients. My roommate, a pharmacist from Philadelphia destined for Bethesda, rolled out of her rack (bed) and groaned, “Reveille…”

So how had I gotten here? Besides the obvious, joining the Navy? It’s always been a career choice I’ve considered, but had been too scared to really commit to. I am outrageously proud of my older brother, who is a Naval Aviator, and after he came to me with some complaints of back pain, I really started looking into it. Did you know that in the Navy, I can see all my patients direct access, regardless of state? That they all have the same insurance? And that I’m truly allowed to practice at our full scope—including ordering labs and imaging, prescribing certain medications, and being trained in and utilizing the most up to date evidence-based practice? Because when I met a recruiter at an APTA conference and I heard all of that, I became a little bit of a sailor. And when my older brother flew into Boston to commission me, 6 months after the selection process began and I was finally chosen to be a Navy Physical Therapist, I became a lotta bit of a sailor. And so there I was at Officer Development School in Newport, RI, becoming Sailor first, Medical Service Corps second, PT third.

Officer Development School is a sort of Intro to Navy Life for the professional—my class was made up of 77 physicians, nurses, PTs, social workers, health care administrators, a registered dietician, an OT, a few lawyers (JAGs), and some chaplains, standing in our Navy-issued sweatpants with our hair tucked as neatly as a bun or haircut can be at 0430 and our shoelaces tucked neatly in, waiting to learn how to bring death and destruction to our enemies.

We did learn. We learned about strategy, about militarization, we took swim tests and physical fitness tests, we learned how to patch up a sinking ship, and we even fought fires. As a Naval Officer, we were taught, it’s important to think with both sides of your collar, to consider both your professional responsibilities and your responsibility to lead your sailors. As staff corps, we wear our rank on the right, and life on the left. Physical therapists fall into the Medical Service Corps (along with 30 or so other specialties), so I would be wearing Lieutenant rank on the right, and a little Oak leaf with a twig on the stem on the left, to represent my profession of Physical Therapist.

So now, almost 4 months to the day that I made the abrupt transition from civilian to active duty military member, I’ve learned some pretty valuable things. Those guys that run the machine guns on the tops of tanks? They’re pretty tough, but they can get plain old lateral epicondylitis, too. Taking out the trash before work makes you look like you’re a commando on an important mission when you wear camouflage every day. Shirt stays (a device meant to attach your socks and shirt, keeping socks up and shirt tucked down) may seem brilliant, but really they just create a false shoulder flexion/abduction end-feel, and pinch your legs. Camaraderie is so very important to those who are uprooted from their normal lives and sent to work wherever the needs of the Navy take them. Mission readiness is the most important thing to all of my patients—their back might hurt but they sure don’t want to miss their deployments for it.

But the most important lesson of all aligns perfectly with the reason that I’m here. Sure, moving 3,040 miles from everyone and everything I’ve ever known has come with a fair set of challenges, but treating the men and women who have signed on to put their lives on the line and defend our right to be free is the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life. I’ve learned to treat with heart, but to think with the right side of my collar, and be a good leader for my Sailors and Marines.

LT Samantha Letizio is a former member of APTA's Student Assembly Board of Directors, and is a 2012 graduate from the DPT Program at Simmons College in Boston Massachusetts. She briefly worked as an Acute Care PT at New England Baptist Hospital in Boston, as well as an Outpatient Ortho PT at Balance Rehab in Windham, NH, before moving to CA to work at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton's Naval Hospital, where she'll be stationed until May of 2016.

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