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Physicians and Surgeons
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Featured Profile for Physician and Surgeon

Heather Cereste

I’m Major Heather Cereste, an Air Force Medical Doctor. Near the end of my third year in residency, I decided to join the Air Force. A number of things played into my decision. I was in Manhattan during 9/11 and got caught up in the surge of patriotism. I had thought about the military before, and was at a point when I was about to enter geriatrics and wasn’t sure if wanted to go into the traditional workforce or explore something else. First, I joined the reserves and decided to go active shortly after. To be honest with you, I never thought I would be deployed to a combat zone.

When I found out I would be deployed I didn’t feel prepared. So I inquired about further training and was referred to the shock trauma group in Baltimore, Md. It was the closest I could get to warfare type of injuries because it’s an urban warfare they fight in Baltimore. There, I was able to gain confidence in doing some procedures.

Over five months in Iraq, my team managed about 528 critically ill people. There was one young baby, 28 days old. He came to the gate with his parents with an infected arm. He required a lot of attention and care and resources. Everyone at the hospital, from the nursing staff, to the medical technicians, to chaplains, would stop by say hello to the baby. We all did our best to keep him alive. He ended up getting discharged; the last we heard he was doing all right.

Iraq definitely gave me the challenges and adventure I’d been looking for when I joined the Air Force. The experience I received practicing medicine in Iraq couldn’t have been had anywhere else.

Combat medical resources are limited, and we’re forced to use them very carefully. Being there, I was able to better understand the dilemma our doctors and nurses face, and provide guidance to them. I now teach and train at Wilford Hall Medical Center. In fact, I worked in collaboration with some of the other care providers to establish standard protocols.

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