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Navy Podiatrist Aids in Fighting Spread of COVID-19

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Navy Lt. (Dr.) Aaron Chambers, a doctor of podiatric medicine and fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, is helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Chambers, originally from St. Louis is a 2006 graduate of Mehlville Senior High School and a 2009 alumnus of the University of Missouri. He relocated to Los Angeles to complete his degree in 2014 from Western University of Health Sciences.

A Navy medical officer poses for a photo.
Aaron Chambers
Navy Lt. (Dr.) Aaron Chambers, a podiatrist assigned to Naval Medicine Readiness and Training Command Bremerton, Wash., poses for a photo before returning to man the command’s drive-thru screening process to screen for COVID-19 symptoms, triaging high-risk patients arriving at the hospital and directing patients to the appropriate level of care.
Photo By: Douglas Stutz, Navy
VIRIN: 200429-N-HU933-008

For the last six years, Chambers has been a podiatrist with the Navy Medicine team, and he is assigned to Naval Medicine Readiness and Training Command Bremerton in Washington state.

Along with providing specialty service to keep sailors, Marines and their families ready, healthy and on the job, Chambers has also been actively engaged in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"The great part of Navy Medicine is that everyone understands that we have a common mission and a dedication to our patients and service members," Chambers said. "This has resulted in a high level of coordination and frequent updates to our screening process. I am currently performing Level 1 screenings for all patients at the hospital, and if I see an area for improvement, I'm able to immediately address it to improve the mission."

A Level 1 screening involves triaging high-risk patients coming to the hospital, screening for COVID-19 symptoms and directing patients to the appropriate level of care.

"If a patient is identified as high-risk in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria, they are sent for prompt testing," Chambers explained. "If an OB patient in labor is identified, I activate our OB-response team, enabling prompt care for the child and mother. Even if patients are coming for routine appointments or pharmacy refills, they must be screened for respiratory illness. Our drive-thru screening process accommodates over 300 patients a day."

It has been a challenge during what's been labeled as the new norm, as Chambers and the rest of NMRTC Bremerton focus on preparing, responding and preventing COVID-19 at shore, on ships, in submarines and with squadrons.

"Knowing that things need to be fluid in terms of management can be a challenge in this time, but trusting in our team to provide the best quality of care helps significantly," he said. "This is an unprecedented time, but our military really shines in management of acute events. Additionally, being part of a smaller command allows me to know personally those that are at the top levels of leadership. When a new protocol gets established, I know it's coming from someone personally invested in its success. I'd trust them to treat my family, and I trust them in their abilities."

A Navy medical officer mans a screening post.
Medical Screening
Navy Lt. (Dr.) Aaron Chambers, a podiatrist assigned to Naval Medicine Readiness and Training Command Bremerton, Wash., works as part of the command’s drive-thru screening process to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The St. Louis native handles Level 1 screening, which involves triaging high-risk patients coming to the hospital, screening for COVID-19 symptoms, and directing patients to the appropriate level of care.
Photo By: Douglas Stutz, Navy
VIRIN: 200429-N-HU933-004

Chambers attests that patient response has been overwhelmingly positive as the facility works to protect its people, maintain military readiness and support the whole-of-government interagency response.

"Patients frequently comment to me that they are thankful that our team ... is making sure our community is safe," Chambers added. "Knowing that we are addressing their concerns and that the wider Bremerton area is safer because of it is very gratifying."

Addressing a pandemic might seem like medicine far removed from orthopedics, but Chambers and his department have immediately responded to help handle the outbreak while still providing acute patient needs.

"Our orthopedic department team demonstrates the best part of being in the Navy — the ability to rapidly respond to any challenge that faces us," Chambers stated. "Within a day of the COVID-19 response, we had changed our clinic schedule to having covering providers while the rest of us were dedicated to screening and testing. We switched immediately to phone meetings for updates to decrease the risk of transmission."

Chambers said he never really planned on pursuing a Navy career, but by happenstance, he made the best of what seemed like a good opportunity.

"During my last year of my [doctor of podiatric medicine] program, I was on clinical rotations at a residency program in San Francisco," Chambers said. "Two of the graduating residents were part of the Navy Health Services Collegiate Program, and they were extremely inspiring to be around. They had high energy, confidence and leadership skills that I strived to have. They viewed the Navy not as a means to an end, but as a chance to grow in personal and professional leadership abilities. We became good friends and they helped me during my application process to the Navy HSCP program. Once I began residency at the VA Loma Linda Hospital in Loma Linda, California, I began my career with the Navy.

Nothing compares to the feeling of putting on my uniform and going to work knowing I am making a positive difference in the lives of patients."
Navy Lt. (Dr.) Aaron Chambers

"The Navy not only allows for one to grow professionally, but take part of leadership abilities I would otherwise not have the opportunity for," he continued. "I have served as division officer for the department of orthopedics, leading the enlisted hospital corpsmen to advance in rank and ability, and as well as the command duty officer, performing crises management like inclement weather responses and personnel issues."

Chambers has also served as project manager for a number of hospital wide process improvement projects, such as designing and implementing a "surgical passport" system for both orthopedics and podiatry.

"It is a clear, concise method to help patients obtain preoperative labs and clearances, obtain necessary preoperative imaging as well as ensure follow-up for their post-operative appointments and care," he explained.

Although the majority of his six years of service has been providing patient-centered care at stateside military treatment facilities, Chambers has supported Navy fleet needs during local sea operations.

"One exciting assignment I had was coordinating an educational clinic for shipboard physical therapists stationed on our carriers," he said. "I conducted a multiday hands-on workshop to teach the physical therapists how to perform safe injections and therapeutic modalities for their underway patients. It gave me the chance to see how life is aboard a massive carrier as well as improve the treatment abilities of their medical team."

Chambers noticed the difference in the podiatry needs on a Navy warship as compared to those at shore based installations.

"Due to the demanding shipboard environment, we see more sports-related injuries than our civilian counterparts," he said. "Frequently, I am performing ankle arthroscopies and ankle ligament repairs due to the repetitive stress and trauma on a ship. Additionally, I see a frequent level of foot traumas such as Jones fractures or Lisfranc injuries that necessitate surgery to get patients back to full duty as soon as possible. But compared to the civilian sector, I am not seeing as much diabetes related complications as I would in the civilian sector."

A Navy medical officer looks at an ankle.
COVID-19 Prevention
Navy Lt. (Dr.) Aaron Chambers, a podiatrist assigned to Naval Medicine Readiness and Training Command Bremerton, Wash., has added the task of preventing the spread of COVID-19 to his normal duties of treating foot and ankle problems as the orthopedic department division officer. The St. Louis native, along with the rest of NMRTC Bremerton, are focused on preparing, responding and preventing COVID-19 at shore, on ships, in submarines and with squadrons.
Photo By: Douglas Stutz, Navy
VIRIN: 200427-N-HU933-086C

As a Navy Medical Service Corps officer, Chambers is part of a highly regarded group considered by many to be the most diverse organization in Navy Medicine.

"The biggest thing to remember about the Medical Service Corps is that while we may have very specific professions, we are all in the mission to provide exceptional care to our patients," Chambers said. "As an example, I focus on the foot and ankle for my profession, but if a patient is experiencing issues with other areas, I am the first to advocate and ensure they get prompt care. I have had patients that have had urgent psychological issues, emergent OB conditions and others, and I am always ensuring they get prompt care and a warm handoff to the specialist who can help them the best. During the COVID-19 pandemic I've been working with other MSC officers, Dental and Medical Corps officers, and we are all focused on the same goal. Frequently I am screening patients side by side with optometrists and physical therapists and performing duties that would ordinarily be outside of my scope."

Chambers says the best parts about his career in Navy Medicine is the support as well as the opportunity to grow professionally and personally.

"Navy medicine and the military has made me a more disciplined person and really challenged me on what I can accomplish," Chambers said. "My family and I have definitely seen a positive change in my confidence, stress management and public speaking abilities. My patient care abilities have definitely expanded as well with having access to experienced, trained mentors to rely on for advice."

"Being part of Navy Medicine means that I can serve my country and at the same time improve care for my service-members," Chambers added. "Nothing compares to the feeling of putting on my uniform and going to work knowing I am making a positive difference in the lives of patients."

With the Navy surgeon general priority on operational readiness and core mission of producing force medical readiness and medical force readiness, Chambers notes that if anything, the COVID-19 outbreak has shown Navy Medicine's commitment to helping those in need.

"The results speak for themselves I believe," he said. "During this time of crisis we are still functioning as a high-reliability organization. Our sailors are still getting the care they need and if an external need for deployment arises we are ready to serve."

When asked to sum up his experience with Navy Medicine in one sentence, Chambers replied, "The best decision I have ever made in my life."

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