20th MDG physician connects to mission

U.S. Air Force Capt. (Dr.) Eva Chatman, 20th Medical Group family health physician, center, stands with others during her deployment at an undisclosed location in Africa circa 2016. During the deployment, Chatman was responsible for the care of approximately 250 service members and federal employees. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Capt. (Dr.) Eva Chatman, 20th Medical Group family health physician, center, stands with others during her deployment at an undisclosed location in Africa circa 2016. During the deployment, Chatman was responsible for the care of approximately 250 service members and federal employees. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Capt. (Dr.) Eva Chatman, 20th Medical Group family health physician, checks a patient’s vitals at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., April 19, 2017. Chatman is responsible for providing health care to service members to ensure they can complete their mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

U.S. Air Force Capt. (Dr.) Eva Chatman, 20th Medical Group family health physician, checks a patient’s vitals at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., April 19, 2017. Chatman is responsible for providing health care to service members to ensure they can complete their mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --

While every Airman has a role to play in the Air Force mission, some may not see their job’s true impact when they first enter the service.

Growing up, Capt. (Dr.) Eva Chatman, 20th Medical Group family health physician, saw her parents face chronic illnesses, which she said led to her fascination with medicine and how the body worked. As her schooling advanced, she pursued her interest in biology and eventually received an Air Force scholarship for medical school.

After graduating and completing her residency at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, Chatman arrived at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, where she began to work as a family health physician. Because of her distance from the flightline, she did not feel connected to the mission until her first deployment.

“I had no clue what my mission was,” she said. “It’s hard to really see it here, on such a small base where you’re not seeing the impact. We’re not on the flightline, we don’t get to go out there like flight medicine who has a unit they’re attached to. It was really hard for me to understand it until, two years in, I got tasked to deploy.”

While on her six-month deployment to a remote location in Africa, Chatman filled the role of a flight medicine physician, a physician who normally cares for individuals who fly aircraft.

She was responsible for the health of more than 250 service members and federal employees, and participated in aeromedical evacuations.

“It was just me and my technician in this little cubby-like clinic,” she said.

In that small clinic, Chatman was responsible for making sure her patients received the care necessary to continue their deployment. If she did not have the resources they needed, she had to send them home. Any loss of manning had the potential to endanger the mission, which led her to wonder how they had been cleared to deploy.

“It really opened my eyes to how much it really does start here in my (20th MDG) clinic,” she said. “It starts with making sure I know my patients, I’m doing a good chart review, and that I know where they’re going. Are there going to be facilities for them to be able to deal with their chronic issues? If not, they don’t need to go right now. I have that decision-making ability and I really should take it seriously. Some of the times we’re like ‘you can go, no big deal,’ but then it affects one of the doctors downrange who can’t deal with that patient.”

With a new understanding of how the health care she provided at home affected her patients when they deployed, Chatman returned to the 20th MDG reenergized and refocused.

“Dr. Chatman was forced to rely solely on her skill set to determine if a service member had to be evacuated out of country for medical care,” said Bobbie Pound, 20th MDG clinical nurse case manager. “She had to make this determination all without the use of a laboratory to run blood tests or x-ray equipment. Dr. Chatman was an outstanding clinician before her deployment, but since returning and seeing first-hand what is required to perform in austere conditions, she is even more thorough in ensuring we have a force that can meet the expectations required of them.”

Chatman said the deployment changed her entire mentality toward her role in the 20th MDG. It offered her unique experiences she would never have had come across while stateside.

“Family doctors don’t really get to go and do the cool kind of deployment assignments,” said Chatman. “They’re normally billeted for flight doctors. To be sent there two years after residency, it was a shock, but it was a great experience.”