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    Part II: The anatomy of an ‘old dog’ mastering new tricks: A combat surgeon’s journey from the trenches of big business to the front lines of Afghanistan

    Camp Nathan Smith Troop Medical Clinic

    Photo By Sgt. Breanne Pye | Capt. Douglas ‘Doc’ Powell, brigade surgeon assigned to Headquarters and...... read more read more

    Part Two: Engage the Present

    KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Walk through the halls of any American University and you expect to see the bright, young faces of eager students, fresh out of high school, ready to write the first solo chapter in their own personal ‘book of life’.

    What those young students didn’t expect, as they prepared to engage in their very first lecture, was to find themselves sitting next to a jovial, white-haired, former business executive they may have mistaken for the professor.

    At 40 years old, Capt. Douglas ‘Doc’ Powell, brigade surgeon, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, began his first year of post-graduate medical school.

    As he started this new stage of his epic journey, Powell found himself facing a much different set of challenges than his bright-eyed student counterparts at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, in Winston, Salem, N.C.

    “What was tough, very tough, was to be thrown into medical school with young, smart students fresh out of science-based majors,” said Powell. “As a liberal arts major in my undergraduate degree, learning science was something new that I had to undertake to enter medicine.”

    With only two years of medical classes, taken at night while volunteering and working a full-time, high-level, private-sector job at Burton Snowboards, Powell said it was incredibly challenging to become comfortable with the new subject matter he was studying.

    The challenge for Powell came in trying to keep up with his classmates academically after years of navigating the twists and turns of business. In comparison, many of his classmates were fresh out of four-year programs and had a significant amount of lab research experience.

    “There were many times during my first and second year, when I doubted I was smart or resilient enough to get through the next exam,” said Powell. “I wondered whether I should have chosen another medical school, a less arduous profession, or even if I should have continued my career in business.”

    Fortunately for Powell, the discrepancy between him and his peers leveled off quite a bit when his medical school classes transitioned from class work to ‘clinical work’, or working with actual patients.

    “It was much easier to apply science to the care of patients, than it was to get good grades on standardized exams,” said Powell. “But as I got better and better with the former, I continued to struggle with the latter.”

    Though it was a battle, Powell overcame the trials and tribulations of academic rigor. He made it through one test and then another; one class and then another; one year and then another.

    Powell said the early years of medical school found him homesick and overwhelmed, emotions that are now blunted by the fact everything worked out perfectly in the long run.

    But Powell did more than just make it through those first tumultuous years; he did it all with style. In conquering his fears of failure and setting aside the stress of starting from the ground up, Powell managed to walk across the stage at the end of his four-year program to receive his diploma as a medical doctor. He had finally made it.

    The bar he set for himself years ago, to take just one class, and get an ‘A’, all while struggling to balance his career and volunteer work, proved to be just the right height for a man who had nothing but great expectations for himself.

    “I attribute a lot of my ability to endure those trying times to my background as an aerobic athlete,” said Powell. “No matter how busy or overwhelmed I felt, I got out for a run or a long bike ride to recharge my batteries enough to face the next challenge head-on.”

    As it turned out, the next challenge would be Powell’s medical residency, and he faced it without having a moment to catch his breath from the rigors of academically mastering medical science in the classroom.

    A medical residency is a stage of medical training completed immediately after medical school. Resident physicians have already received their medical degree and the next step is for them to practice medicine under the supervision of a fully licensed physician in a hospital or clinic.

    Powell chose to complete his residency in internal medicine at Madigan Army Medical Center, located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

    During the course of his residency, Powell decided to compete on the Army 10-miler marathon team. The team he ended up on was comprised of combat-arms officers and non-commissioned officers, most of whom served on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    “Spending time with teammates from my 10-miler team really inspired me to want to practice medicine in a line-unit,” said Powell. “Hearing their stories and experiences re-ignited my original passion to engage in public service. I absolutely knew, without a doubt, that I had to serve in a combat-arms unit.”

    As it would turn out, the universe agreed. Shortly after completing his medical residency at Madigan Army Medical Center, the stars aligned, and Powell found himself accepting his very first assignment as a medical professional, brigade surgeon for 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, ‘Raiders’.

    One might think Powell would find himself overwhelmed at the prospect of being directly responsible for the medical welfare and readiness of a 4,000 service member brigade combat team, but it turns out there was a solution to that as well.

    Sometime before the completion of his medical degree, Powell had a friend approach him with the assertion that the ‘Doc’ was in need of a companion to accompany him through the duration of his journey through medical school.

    As with most of Powell’s adventures, the result of that proposition turned out to be equally extraordinary.

    The friend, who assured Powell that he needed a companion, just happened to be working with a pet rescue in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to find homes for dogs who were abandoned or displaced as a result of the disaster.

    “Eventually, I caved in to her constant insistence that the one thing missing from my life, was a dog,” said Powell. “I got my Labrador, Baxter, shortly before completing medical school and he’s been my faithful companion through most of this journey.”

    More than a just being a faithful companion, Baxter accompanies ‘Doc’ on nearly every adventure or activity he participates in; from running mountain trails, to mountain biking and even snowboarding.

    “I always joke that it takes a village to raise a dog, but in Baxter’s case, it’s really true,” said Powell. “He’s directly responsible for helping me establish lasting friendships with the neighbors and people who looked after him while I was in the hospital overnight, on call.”

    So the ‘old dog’ and the new dog became a dynamic duo, which would see ‘Doc’ Powell not only through the completion of his residency, but through the beginning of the next phase of his journey as a brigade surgeon of the ‘Raider’ Brigade.

    Though Powell didn’t know it at the time, it wouldn’t take long for Baxter to win over another heart, which would eventually lead the ‘dynamic duo’ to become the ‘dynamic trio’.”



    Date Taken: 03.28.2011
    Date Posted: 03.28.2011 00:38
    Story ID: 67823
    Location: KANDAHAR, AF 

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