As the country celebrates Veterans Day, members of the IHP community talk of how their service to country has allowed them to help others – as well as themselves.
When Alexis Peine signed up for the U. S. Army after graduating college in 2010, she wanted to join the military police. It proved to be a good thing that choice wasn’t available when she began basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
“They gave me three options: you can blow things up, you can fix or drive cars and trucks, or you could fix people,” said the New Jersey native. “I chose to fix people.”
So she became a combat medic, a decision that eventually sent her to Afghanistan for nine months where she helped set up field hospitals and went out on several combat missions with infantry units, at times treating injured soldiers. It was there that she worked with a physician assistant, an experience that made a big impact. Before returning stateside, she had decided to pursue a post-military career in health care – despite it being something she had vowed never to do when she was younger.
“My mother was an ER nurse, so I’d hear all about what she did but I never wanted to have anything to do with health care,” Peine said, who has risen to rank of Staff Sargent in the Army Reserves over the past 12 years in the service. “But here I am at the Institute in the PA program.”
Peine, who is scheduled to graduate in 2023, is one of a dozen self-identified veterans at the IHP who are being recognized November 11 on Veterans Day. It includes people like Bill Elizondo, an Instructional Technologist/Application Support Specialist, who saw the military as a way to pay for college.
He enlisted in the Marines right out of high school in Texas, and his deployment brought him as far away as Japan and the Philippines as well as to a base in Arizona where he ran the motor pool. Upon finishing his four-year tour, he used his GI benefits to graduate from Texas A&M University - Commerce and went on to work at NASA, Texas A&M University at Galveston, and Xerox in a series of help desk assistance roles that led him to joining the Institute in 2017, where he now supports faculty using instructional technology in on-campus and online classes.
“Determination is one of the big things I got out of the military, that you can do pretty much anything if you're determined and you do the right thing,” Elizondo said. “You’re able to use things like leadership skills and carry them over into what you do every day like thinking outside the box to solve issues.”
In a video where he was among several veterans from across the Mass General Brigham system, he noted, “I have met several veterans here that I’ve worked with, and we all have one thing in common – we care about people.”
Caring about people is what Dr. David Omura has done for the past five years as CEO of the Columbia VA Health Care System in Columbia, SC. The 2008 Doctor of Physical Therapy graduate oversees a healthcare system that serves over 89,000 veterans, staffs almost 3,000 employees, and has an operating budget of $840 million.
Omura, who was raised in upstate New York, earned a master’s in PT from Boston University and a master’s in healthcare administration from the University of Florida, where after graduation ran three of UF Health’s rehabilitation clinics while serving as an adjunct faculty member for the university. After one of his employees moved on to work for the nearby North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, it wasn’t long before Omura was hearing how the VA was a great place to work. Although he is not a veteran, he was hooked by its values and focus and soon joined his prior staff at the VA overseeing rehab professional across northern Florida.
“I love the mission of the VA and how the emphasis is focused on providing the best quality care for veterans,” said Omura, who stresses using the kinds of innovative and modern approaches to health care that is rivaled by many private facilities. “I’m thrilled to be doing what I'm doing now and excited to now be leading healthcare professional on a broader scale in a senior leadership role.”
He has embraced the IHP’s focus on interprofessional education, bringing together doctors, nurses, occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists with PTs to help veterans live their healthiest lives. “It's just helping to break down silos and showing everyone that they can make a difference by working together,” he said. “It's a great honor and privilege to be able to take care of our nation's heroes.”