445th AMDS reservist has passion for helping others

  • Published
  • By Capt. John T. Stamm
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
"I love people." If that was all you knew about Tech. Sgt. Herodina "Dina" Lu, 445th Aerospace Medicine Squadron dental technician, it would be all you needed to know. However, she is also the epitome of the Air Force Core Values "Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence In All We Do," which would make her a prime candidate for a USAF Reserve poster-child if there was one.

Born in the Philippines, her father was an enlisted sailor with the United States Navy. The family relocated to California when she was only three months old. At age 14, they moved back to the Philippines where she finished high school. It was then that she found her love for medicine and compassion for helping others.

"I was taking up minor subjects in college at the same time my older sister was finishing up her final year of medical school," Lu said. "I would tag along with her on her rotations when I wasn't busy. In the Philippines, there are only rich and poor. If you don't have money, you don't get the optimum care you need. I saw people sick and dying and I thought, how can we treat people this way? Their care shouldn't be based on their economic status."

It's this first-hand experience of healthcare in a developing nation, and the desire to provide that care to the less-fortunate, that motivates Lu to pursue a medical degree as a physician assistant. PAs are healthcare professionals trained and licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician. They may perform any medical or surgical duties that are delegated to them by the physician. Lu is currently enrolled in the 29-month Master of Science degree program in the physician assistant field at the Morehead, Ky., branch of the University of Kentucky.

Lt. Col. Michael A. Cooper, 445th AMDS Chief of Clinical Services, is not only Lu's supervisor but he's also the associate director of the program at the Morehead campus. He knows first-hand the incredible sacrifices that she has made, and continues to make, in attaining her goals of bettering herself and helping others in need.

"The Physician Assistant program at the University of Kentucky is highly competitive," Cooper said. "We receive hundreds of applications every year, but only accept 60 students. It's a holistic process where we not only look at undergraduate work and GRE (Graduate Record Examination) scores, but we also place candidates in various scenarios to see how they perform under pressure."

Performing under pressure is something that is second nature to Airmen. So is sacrifice. Sergeant Lu continues to make sacrifices in her endeavors. Her husband and children reside in the Dayton, Ohio, area while she temporarily lives near the Morehead campus attending classes and studying during the week. Drawing on her military experience, she also provides mentorship to the other students, which is not only noted but welcomed and appreciated by the faculty there.

"Speaking on behalf of the university, we love the military," Cooper said. "Having Dina as a student adds value to our program because she brings experience in caring for patients. The other students seem to look up to her and seek her out for advice."

In addition to serving as an inspiration to other students, Lu is carrying on a proud tradition. The physician assistant career field can trace its heritage to the military. According to the Physician Assistant Historical Society, the PA profession was first proposed to the American Medical Association in 1961 by Dr. Charles L. Hudson. In 1965, the Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina assembled the first class of physician assistants in 1965 composed of former U.S. Navy hospital corpsmen. The curriculum of the program was based, in part, on the fast-track training of medical doctors during World War II.

"The first physician assistants were combat medics returning from Vietnam," Cooper said. "We have really maintained that close relationship ever since. The military continues to be one of the prime employers of PAs, primarily as medical officers, in deployed units. Dina is prototypical of the traditional military medic that becomes a PA."

After graduation, Lu intends to bring her acquired skills back to the 445th as a commissioned officer and seek out deployments to developing countries where she can help those who don't have access to healthcare.

"Growing up in the environment I did has opened my eyes to how lucky we are in the United States," Lu said. "Can I change the world? No. But I can have a heart, love people and help give them the care they deserve regardless of who they are, rich or poor."

The Merriam-Webster dictionary does not have an entry for "change the world." If it did, "helping others" would surely be a part of the definition.