SAN DIEGO -- USS Makin Island (LHD 8) is hosting its first medical student from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) in Bethesda, Maryland.
The LHD amphibious assault ship’s medical department already boasts the largest and most capable medical facility in the fleet, aside from the hospital ships USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) and USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), making this interaction another step in allowing Navy Medicine to train personnel in different environments.
Capt. Tom Miller, (Ret.) Associate Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at USUHS said, “The USU Family Medicine Department sponsors a number of operational medicine rotations with family physicians in a variety of operational settings. The Makin Island experience is the first of its kind.”
Ens. Rachel A. Cline, from Hummelstown, Pennsylvania and 2011 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh (PITT), is finishing her second year at USUHS and is the medical student aboard Makin Island completing her third clinical clerkship.
“The fact that I get to work here and be the first student to do a clerkship here is phenomenal,” said Cline.
She went on to say, “It’s a great experience to see how the medical team works on board; but also how the ship operates as a whole.”
After graduating from PITT, Cline took a few years off from school and worked in a laboratory setting where she was published in various research articles before making the decision to attend medical school.
“Working in labs was great, and I’ve always had a passion for the sciences,” said Cline, “but I’m also a people person so I wanted to do something to work with people and ensure they live the best lives possible.”
She applied and was accepted to a myriad of medical schools and ultimately chose USUHS.
“The military, in particular the Navy, has always been something that I thought I would want to do, and when I finally decided that I was going to join, USUHS was the best choice for my career,” said Cline.
She went on to say, “USUHS has the best military physician training program along with a great medical program, and financially, the military takes care of all the costs where as I would have had to take out vast amounts in loans at a civilian school.”
The program, as with all medical programs, is four years and involves two years of classroom study and two years of clinical clerkships. Clerkships are a part of the student’s curriculum and rotate through the different medical specialties.
Cline said, “Typically the clerkships offered are in specialties such as Family Medicine, surgery, pediatrics, anesthesiology and a multitude of others.”
Predominantly, the clerkships are offered at military hospitals and military treatment facilities such as Walter Reid Military Hospital in Bethesda and Cline said, “This clerkship is unique in that I’m actually on a war-fighting ship.”
“Roughly 20,000 doctors are made each year, and only several hundred of them are military. Very few get the opportunity to go on a ship underway as a student and see the unique challenges of the embarked medical providers; Ens. Cline is experiencing it first hand,” said Lt. Cmdr. Matthew S. Bidlack, senior medical officer aboard Makin Island.
“She’s getting to know the jobs these Sailors are doing and the dangerous environment that they are working in,” Bidlack added, “so in the future when she is treating a boatswain’s mate, she has a practical understanding of that Sailor and the specific hazards associated with his or her job. That understanding will enable her to better treat patients.”
Cline’s primary tasks involve shadowing the medical providers on board as well as seeing patients and coming up with differential diagnoses that she will present to one of the staff.
“Basically, I see a patient and come up with what I think is going on with them and also a list of other possibilities that it could be,” said Cline. “I then present those findings to the medical staff with a plan for treatment.”
Cline has seen patients for many ailments including orthopedic and respiratory problems, given various injections and has even assisted in a mole removal.
“To have this kind of experience is priceless,” she said enthusiastically. “Everybody from the doctors to the corpsmen has different experiences and knowledge to offer, and I have learned so much from them.”
Bidlack added, “Medical students are like sponges for knowledge. She is extremely eager to learn about her job and the ship.”
He continued to say, “Here we are in the Navy continuing the centuries old practice of medicine-at-sea on the Makin Island in the most capable medical facility in the fleet, and she truly recognizes the uniqueness of what’s happening.”
Cline’s eagerness to learn her job is also coupled with her desire to be a Sailor.
When asked how she was enjoying being on the Makin Island she smiled and said, “I like the ship life. The Navy was always my choice of branches. My grandfather, Nicholas Pestrock, was a machinist’s mate third class on board the USS Leedstown (APA-56) during World War II. He always told me that when he was in the Navy those were the best years of his life, and that really stuck with me.”
With a big, bright smile on her face, she continued, “And when I commissioned he told me that he wished he was younger so he could do it with me. Then he stood at attention and saluted me.”
Cline will have been on board the Makin Island for four weeks when her clerkship is finished and said that the biggest thing she has learned on board hasn’t been in the medical department.
“I’ve really come to know how vastly different every Sailor’s life is in the Navy,” said Cline. “They come from different backgrounds all over the U.S. and various parts of the world, and I feel that the more I can learn about the Sailors, and not only their jobs but their lives, the better I will be able to treat them.”
Cline will also be talking to Sailors aboard Makin Island about the various paths in to Navy medicine during a Career in Navy Medicine Interest Group that was created by Bidlack.
“I feel that anybody can succeed in this field,” said Cline, “so I want people to know that they shouldn’t let any fears they have about going this route get in the way of their dreams. If you have a passion, you should go for it.”
When Cline finishes her clerkship on the Makin Island, she will have a little more than two years left in her program and is slated to graduate from USUHS in May of 2017.
Though Cline is the first medical student to do a clerkship on board Makin Island, she will not be the last. Two other students will be doing clerkships aboard Makin Island later this year, and Bidlack anticipates that this will be a positive learning experience for them and encourages more students in the future to seek out these unique educational experiences.