As a kid growing up in north-central Ohio, I had two potential occupations in mind: becoming a Marine or a physician. My high school wrestling coach was Jim Speelman, 5’4″ and a former all-Marine wrestler who instilled a toughness and tenacity in his wrestlers that resulted in numerous state champions, collegiate wrestlers, and a large number of individuals who became very successful adults.
I talked to Coach Speelman about enlisting in the Marine Corps after high school one day after practice. He convinced me to go to college first, then go into the Marine Corps as a commissioned officer afterward if I still had the desire. Just like during practices and matches, I was afraid to disobey him, so I headed to St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota as a pre-med major after graduating high school.
My sophomore year of college, I watched the second plane fly into the World Trade Center towers on a TV outside of my Physics 105 classroom. Once again, I felt the drive to enlist in the Marine Corps, but Mike, another old Marine, talked me out of it. Mike was my boss for my work-study job of driving buses of students around the two campuses between classes during the week and between social outings on weekends.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I started the application process for medical school. It was about that time that I learned about the Health Professional Scholarship Program (HPSP). It’s offered by the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force as a means of paying for medical school in exchange for active duty military service after completing training. I emailed a recruiter from each branch, and the Navy recruiter called me back. As soon as he told me that Navy physicians took care of Marines, I was hooked. All I needed to do now was to get into medical school.
I applied to a dozen osteopathic and allopathic medical schools across the Midwest before eventually choosing to enroll at Des Moines University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. I had shadowed DOs and MDs during college, and had great experiences with both.
Following graduation from DMU, my wife and I headed out to San Diego for my internship in general surgery. Halfway through the year, I was given the choice of continuing straight through after internship into general surgery residency, or spending a two-year operational tour on a ship or with a Marine unit. I signed up for a Marine operational tour and requested an infantry battalion.
That summer, I attended Field Med School at Camp Pendleton and checked into 1ST Battalion 4TH Marines. Nine months and four field training operations later, we loaded onto Navy Amphibious ships for a seven-month deployment as a Marine Expeditionary Unit. I was dual-hatted as the sole physician for the 400 sailors of the USS Dubuque and the 600 Marines embarked onboard.
We performed training in Indonesia, Australia, the Maldives, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, and several other countries along the way. We worked with, taught, and learned from their military units while being ready to respond to any crisis in our AOR (Area Of Responsibility), which encompassed the entirety of the Middle East, most of Africa, and the Indian Ocean. During that time, I used lessons learned on my medical school rotations back in Iowa and my general surgery internship to manage head injuries, broken bones, abscesses, psychiatric emergencies ashore in six different countries, all aboard a ship that was often hundreds of miles from the nearest medical treatment facility or other medical professional.
After returning from that deployment, I was selected into residency in orthopedic surgery, which I completed in 2016. My first duty station after residency was in Okinawa, Japan, working again with mostly Marines for patients.
Upon completing my time in Okinawa, I came back to the US to Boston for a fellowship in adult reconstruction (knee and hip replacements) at New England Baptist Hospital. Afterward, I returned back to my former residency program at Naval Medical Center San Diego as a staff surgeon to teach residents in the same building where I spent most of my residency.
In June 2020, I passed 12 years on active duty. Thus far, my career in Navy medicine has brought me halfway around the world to 12 different countries on three continents. I’ve had the privilege and honor of having thousands of our nation’s bravest, toughest, and most selfless young men and women as patients, colleagues, and friends.
Sometimes I think back on my time in the Navy, and realize that it all started with an email to a Navy recruiter and a letter of acceptance from Des Moines University.
Dusty Schuett, DO FAAOS
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of the Army, Department of Defense, nor the US Government. Nothing in the presentation implies any Federal/Department of Defense/Department of the Navy endorsement.