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This profile was last updated on 8/25/06  and contains information from public web pages.

Robert Szewczyk

Wrong Robert Szewczyk?
 
Background

Employment History

  • Nurse Anesthetist
    U.S. Air Force
  • Nurse
    Scott Air Force Base
  • Staff Nurse Anesthetist
    Wright Patterson Air Force Base
  • Chief Nurse
  • Anesthesia News

Education

  • master's degree
Web References
Anesthesia News - Provider Spotlight: Robert Szewczyk, Nurse Anesthetist, U.S. Air Force
www.anesthesianews.com, 25 Aug 2006 [cached]
Provider Spotlight: Robert Szewczyk, Nurse Anesthetist, U.S. Air ForceAnesthesia News - Provider Spotlight: Robert Szewczyk, Nurse Anesthetist, U.S. Air Force
...
Provider Spotlight: Robert Szewczyk, Nurse Anesthetist, U.S. Air Force
...
As Robert Szewczyk flipped through his "blue book," Penn State's undergraduate degree programs bulletin, during his sophomore year, little did he imagine that it would take him on a journey that would lead him to Iraq and back again.Szewczyk was unhappy with his current major and was hoping that one of the majors listed in the book would catch his eye.
Fortunately, one did.Szewczyk saw that if he majored in nursing, he would be working with patients by his junior year and could do a clinical rotation at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center before graduating.He switched majors immediately.
After graduation in 1996, Szewczyk landed a critical care internship at Penn State Hershey Medical Center and then worked there for two years after completing his internship.In 1999 Szewczyk began looking for a change.His father and grandfather had both served in the military and Szewczyk learned that a military career would allow him to travel and to further his education.He joined the United States Air Force as a nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.A human resources officer at the base told him that certified registered nurse anesthetists were in demand in the military and that the Air Force would pay for his training.
"This appealed to me," says Szewczyk, "because I knew it would be challenging."In speaking with nurse anesthetists at the base, Szewczyk learned "there was a lot of autonomy associated with the job.The nurse anesthetists I spoke to were really enthusiastic about it."
Szewczyk applied for and was accepted into the United States Army's Graduate Program in Anesthesia Nursing, which is associated with the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston's School of Nursing.After completing his master's degree he received a "follow-on assignment" as a staff nurse anesthetist at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, OH.
Szewczyk says he thought it was likely that he would be deployed to Iraq at some point."Nurse anesthetists are in pretty high demand," he explains."I knew they had a high deployment rate."In September of 2005, after just eight months in Dayton and with his wife, Tracey (also an Air Force R.N.), pregnant with their third child, Szewczyk left for Iraq as part of a "Mobile Forward Surgical Team" (MFST) with the 447th Air Expeditionary Group.In Iraq, Szewczyk was part of an Expeditionary Medical Squadron (EMEDS) just outside of Baghdad.The medical unit was housed in an austere tent complex containing three emergency room beds, three inpatient beds and one operating room - a far cry from the comforts of the medical center at Wright Patterson AFB."The dust in Iraq is like talc," explains Szewczyk."It was hard to keep the facility clean.There were no post-operative infections, though, so we must have been doing something right."
Szewczyk describes the pace as "hours of boredom interspersed with seconds of terror."The medical staff, which included two surgeons, four physicians and several nurses and medical technicians, saw "everything from the common cold to rocket attacks," he says.He estimates that 95 percent of their patient visits were for non-battle-related injuries or illnesses, but the environment was volatile."Toss in the fact that you're in a combat zone," he says, "and you do see battle-related injuries."
Szewczyk felt "relatively safe" in Iraq.He describes the EMEDS as a "stabilize and ship" facility where patients would be stabilized and taken to the operating room if the medical staff felt they had the means to treat them successfully.Within a 24-hour period, all critical patients were sent by MEDEVAC helicopter to the army's combat support hospital in the "Green Zone" (a heavily-guarded area in Baghdad where the new Iraqi government is starting to take shape).It was at the combat support hospital, the coalition's regional trauma facility that more definitive treatment could be provided.
Szewczyk and the medical staff at the EMEDS treated not only U.S. service members from all branches of the military, but also Iraqi soldiers and civilians working as contractors for the U.S. and other countries.The work was "pretty much what I expected," he says, except that he didn't anticipate being the Chief Nurse of the facility.Holding only the rank of Captain, he was the highest ranking nurse at that location and was told immediately upon his arrival that he would oversee the nursing staff and medical technicians.
Despite the numerous challenges - working in a combat zone, trying to provide the best possible care with limited personnel and resources, and overcoming language and cultural barriers (the civilian patients were from countries such as Romania, Pakistan and India, to name a few) - Szewczyk calls his experience "the best thing I've ever done as a healthcare provider."Suddenly there was no one looking over his shoulder and providing advice or assistance."Physicians looked to me to be the expert in airway management, to get my opinion on how to manage our patients.It helped build my confidence as a new anesthesia provider."
Szewczyk returned to the U.S. in late January, arriving in Dayton just twelve hours after his daughter Sydney was born.He is back to work in the anesthesia department at Wright Patterson Medical Center and maintains the camaraderie he developed with his colleagues from Iraq who also work at the center.He enjoys spending time with Tracey, Sydney and his two sons, Spencer (7) and Nicholas (5).Szewczyk says there is a possibility that he could be deployed again, and while he wouldn't volunteer for it, "I wouldn't shy away from it either."
Szewczyk remains profoundly affected by his time in Iraq and by his patients' gratitude."You may win wars with bombs and bullets," he says, "but you're going to win hearts and minds with medicine."
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