EDITOR’S NOTE — This article was submitted by Penn Highlands Healthcare in honor of Memorial Day.
There’s deserved praise for healthcare workers lately – but for many professionals who work as doctors, nurses, physician assistants or in other areas of the healthcare industry, it was a career in the military that was the foundation for their training to bear significant responsibility and find solutions in high-pressure situations.
To commemorate Memorial Day, Penn Highlands Healthcare is spotlighting the system’s employees who first learned to care for others by serving our nation. This weekend, we caught up with just a few Penn Highlands Army veterans to hear how their military experience informs the work they do for patients today.
David VanchureDavid Vanchure is a physician assistant at Penn Highlands DuBois Orthopedics who served from 1987 to 1996, including as a combat medic and operating room specialist during Desert Shield. Inspired by his mother who was a nurse at the V.A., Vanchure found his fit working in orthopedics at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. However after he left the Army, Vanchure says he needed a little time “to know what my goals were. “It wasn’t easy,” he says, though the Army had inspired a clear desire: “I wanted to help patients.”
Attending physician assistant school helped “set me up,” he says, and today he knows he landed in the right place. “I love orthopedics,” Vanchure says. “The majority of patients don’t want to go to the operating room, but I love explaining what’s going to happen and helping them try to succeed with that.”
Terry DavisTerry Davis of Penn Highlands Brookville’s security & maintenance department had a storied 37 years in the Army, serving in Iraq in Desert Storm then joining the reserves before being deployed again to Iraq in 2003 – and again in 2009. “I did a lot of different things,” he says, including jumping from airplanes, attending biomedical school, working as a military policeman and in water purifications. “Then I worked under the Civil Affairs as a command sergeant major. In 2003 and 2004, I also took care of three orphanages and a school for the hearing impaired, then later did school projects in Baghdad in the green zone and helped with the Boy Scouts in Baghdad. Who else gets to go to a combat zone and play with kids?” he says. “I just had fun.”
However, struggled after losing some of his guys in an explosion. “I was really vengeful toward the Iraqi people [after that], but then I got to know them. Once I was headed to town and would have ended up driving through a demonstration – and it wouldn’t have been pretty.” Fortunately an Iraqi family intervened and looked out for him, giving him an interpreter and a body guard.
These days, Davis still emails that family and considers them as relatives of his own. “My nephew from Iraq is now an engineer. My interpreter in Baghdad also lives in Dallas, and I keep in contact with him.”
It’s his trademark adaptability that’s been part of Davis’s success at Penn Highlands. “When I retired [from the Army], the former director of engineering and biomed here was a friend of mine and knew I was looking for something to do. It was supposed to be a temporary job over the winter, but that turned into a full-time position.” Davis says it’s still those around him he appreciates the most. “I like the hospital, and I love the people. That’s why I’m still doing it.”
Liz DavisLiz Davis, director for Penn Highlands Clearfield’s Emergency Department and Medical-Surgical unit, was drawn to both the military and medicine. “My dad was career military for the U.S. Army, and working in medicine was something I’ve always wanted to do since I can remember.” Her mode of specialty in the U.S. Army Reserves was as a licensed practical nurse. “I decided the only thing I wanted to do was be in nursing.”
After she graduated from LPN school with the help of the GI bill, she obtained an RN associate’s degree and started working at a nursing home. Soon graduating to work as an RN in 2000, Davis fulfilled her military reserves obligation and, like Vanchure, says the experience was a deeply formative time in her career. “It was probably the most influential part of becoming a leader,” she says. “It also taught me diversity because the military is a team. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, you’re still part of that team.”