MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
It’s no secret that the physical demands upon service members take a serious toll on their bodies. For this, military medicine is on-hand to render aid to any injuries, no matter where they are incurred. The number of medical specialists needed to tend to these injuries may range from a dozen to hundreds.
Navy Lt. Kittra Owens, podiatry department head with Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, represents the latter end of the spectrum, being one of 15 active-duty Navy podiatrists who specialize in treating injuries of the foot, ankle and lower leg.
“After three years of surgical residency training, most people practice as a civilian to pay off their school debts,” said Owens. “It takes a very unselfish act to render healthcare to service members.”
A native of Mobile, Ala., Owens initially had no intentions of joining the military, but she had an interest in the medical profession as a whole. After a bit of research, she concluded she wouldn’t enjoy working in a laboratory all day, and instead opted for a medical profession with human interaction.
“After working on my graduate degree, I took some time off and taught at a high school that was geared toward its graduates pursuing medical careers,” said Owens. “At this point, I knew I wanted to have a medical profession, but I wasn’t sure in what area.”
During the school summer break, Owens found out about the little-known medical practice of podiatry. This caught her eye when both her interests came together as one.
“I’ve always been a science geek as well as very athletic,” said Owens. “Couple those two, and I became fascinated with health and fitness, and the foot and ankle are essential to both. I wanted to go in an operating room and physically take on foot and ankle concerns with finesse and put my full attention on traumatic and reconstructive injuries that need to be corrected.”
Owens graduated from the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine in Philadelphia, and then continued on to her three-year surgical residency at Oakwood Healthcare System in Dearborn, Mich., where she met an Air Force recruiter.
“He informed me that there were spots in the Department of Defense for podiatrists, but none were currently open in the Air Force,” said Owens. “A year later, however, I was contacted by a Navy recruiter out of the blue, saying he met that Air Force recruiter and that a podiatrist spot was open.”
Before this, Owens had no desire to join the military, but knowing the possibility was there and open to her, she took on a whole new challenge of becoming a military healthcare provider.
“What attracted me was I would be taking care of a patient population who sacrificed for their country every day,” said Owens. “That and the sense of job security it offered made me finally decide to do it – become a Navy podiatrist.”
For the past two years, Owens has been the only podiatrist in NHCL, seeing approximately 80 patients a week and performing around 30 surgical procedures per month. This past August, another podiatrist joined the NHCL, working alongside Owens in providing excellent podiatry services to the base.
“In the two years I’ve been here, I’ve experienced personal and professional growth,” said Owens. “I have absolutely no regrets about joining the Navy, and I’m going to take my career one year at a time.”
Owens said that as a Navy podiatrist as opposed to a civilian one, she does not just see patients and send them away for treatment. She also performs surgeries after a diagnosis and conducts herself as a division officer and as a leader to the rest of the NHCL family.
In September, Owens will be attending a two-day Joint Humanitarian Operations Course at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., where she will be learning the proper procedures and skills necessary for conducting medical practices in a joint environment with other branches of service.
“We’re all part of the same overall mission,” said Owens. “At this command, that mission is family and patient care.”