When trauma Surgeon Dr. Albert Chi was commissioned as a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy Reserves at a ceremony inside the Johns Hopkins Medical Center on April 19, 2013, it was the culmination of a long journey, one that began well before he met me.
Dr. Chi had always had a desire to serve his country, but it wasn’t until 2008, while he working in a critical care/trauma surgery fellowship at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, MD, that he really began to think about the Navy. During this time period, Dr. Chi worked alongside, and became friends with, a Navy Reserve Physician by the name of Captain Rom Stevens. That relationship soon led to Captain Stevens eventually introducing him to another to a local reserve officer in the Navy Dental Corps, Admiral Lew Libby.
Over the next few years, these two men helped DR. Chi to slowly learn about life in the Navy Reserves and how it could be balanced with a civilian career. “Their influence and the way they lead by example was the final factor in my decision to join”, said LCDR Chi. He knew he wanted to do it, he just needed to wait until the right time in his professional life to do so.
After completing his fellowship, Dr. Chi went across town to work as an Assistant Professor of Surgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Institute. While there he got involved with groundbreaking work with prosthetic limbs that are controlled by the patient’s brains. The revolutionary devices can move, grip, and even feel sensations. (The work was featured on an episode of the CBS News Program 60 Minutes last December). This work put him in close contact with other military physicians and helped sustain the desire that had been planted years earlier.
By the Spring of 2012, I had been working in Baltimore as a medical officer recruiter long enough to have established some pretty good contacts, so when the call came to find a VIP rider for the Blue Angels later that summer, I was out and about looking for a lucky passenger. The phrase “I’m looking for someone who wants to ride in a F-18 Fighter jet” quickly opened a lot of doors and it eventually led me to a meeting with the VP of Nursing Operations at the Cowley Shock Trauma Center. Karen Doyle would eventually become the VIP rider and through our relationship I learned about and was eventually invited to attend a professional development conference later that fall.
So there I was, in the lobby of the “Special Topics in Trauma Conference” standing by my small stand with the fancy Navy tablecloth, when in walks Dr. Albert Chi, who was just in the area to visit some past colleagues. The initial conversation lasted about five minutes. He simply asked if I was a medical officer recruiter for reserves, to which I replied that I was indeed. He then told me that he was a trauma surgeon and he was ready to join. “I think this is the right time”, he said. We traded contact numbers and he was off.
He still had to go back and brief his idea to his employer as well as his wife, but it wasn’t long before we started putting together his application. “The support I’ve received from my department chair and my department head at Hopkins has been overwhelming.” Adding that they understand that it is a sacrifice, but it’s a sacrifice they all “believe in, and are willing to support”.
LCDR Chi knows that being a trauma surgeon in the Navy Reserves is more than just wearing the uniform and that it is a commitment to an already busy life. His motivation to serve is what is driving him and he is hoping to deploy as soon as he gets the chance. “Drill weekends and potential deployments represent time away from my wife and partners at work but it’s a sacrifice they are all willing to make”, he said.
When asked about what he hopes to gain as a Physician in the Navy Reserves, LCDR Chi stated simply, “I hope to serve my country in a capacity to help those service men and women wounded during timed of conflict.”
The recruitment of LCDR Chi began nearly five years before he was commissioned. It directly involved a Navy Reserve doctor and a Navy Reserve dentist and it indirectly involved a Nurse taking her first ride in an F-18 fighter jet during Baltimore Navy Week.
So in the end, my job, as the Navy Recruiter, was a lot like the full back who carries the ball across the goal line for the final yard of long touchdown drive. The stat book may credit me with the gain, but it was truly a team effort, an effort that resulted in big win for Navy Medicine.