From dental tech to physician’s assistant, hard work, determination pays off for Reserve Citizen Airman

  • Published
  • By Capt. Wilson Wise

A native of the Philippines, 1st Lt. Herodina “Dina” Lu never imagined she would be where she is today. The daughter of a U.S. Navy sailor and a midwife, Lu spent her formative years in California and at age 14, returned to the Philippines for high school. After high school she studied dentistry while her sister focused on traditional medicine.

When both sisters returned to the United States, they decided to continue to serve others. Unfortu­nately, her dental credentials did not transfer to the states.

“I considered joining either the Navy or the Air Force, but consider­ing I don’t like to swim, the Air Force chose me,” Lu said.

Her sister is a medical profes­sional in Virginia.

Since arriving at the 445th Airlift Wing in 2000, Lu promoted to the role of NCO in charge of the dentist­ry before her commission in Decem­ber 2020.

Col. Joseph C. Lawlor, 445th Aerospace Medicine Squadron chief of aerospace medicine, lauds Lt. Lu.

“Her journey to commission be­gan long ago. We saw tremendous value in her work ethic and profes­sionalism and are excited to bring her into the officer corps.”

In 2015, Lu completed a highly selective physi­cian’s assistant program through the University of Kentucky. From 2012-2015 she lived in Morehead, Kentucky away from her family and served clinics in rural Kentucky gaining invaluable experience. During this time, she saw her family at irregular intervals of­ten only when she returned for drill at the 445th.

Now back home for good, she is employed as a PA in the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright- Patterson Air Force Base. There she observes flyers in altitude center chambers in a laboratory setting. Ad­ditionally, she works two days a week in a local urgent care center.

Lu’s journey is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication for which the 445th Airlift Wing is a tremendous beneficiary.

Col. Hans Otto, 445th Aerospace Medicine Squad­ron commander, welcomes her com­mission as part of a multi-faceted solution to critical manning short­ages.

“From 2015-2017, we had tre­mendous difficulty recruiting doc­tors to the medical corps. Since then, the career field and the 445th in particular has made changes to manning documents to allow for more clinic providers,” Otto said.

A recent Air Force Instruction update allows aeromedical nurse practitioners (ANP) and aeromedical physicians assistants (APA) to sup­plement flight doctors and increase manpower and capabilities.

“We are thrilled to have Maj. Kelly Kunkler as an ANP, and Lieutenant Lu as an APA to increase efficiency in the clinic setting. We can expand our future recruiting pool beyond physi­cians to help the Air Force maintain medical readiness,” Otto said.

Lu radiates an infectious spirit of caring, meekness and service.

“As a caregiver, you must be keenly aware of how a patient feels – especially when he or she is sick. I be­lieve that being truly human and loving people is key. I silently pray over my patients while I am working with them,” she says.

Lu plans to transition her civilian career to hos­pice/palliative care in the future.

When the Air Force allows leadership to fix man­ning issues while keeping the right people in place, everyone wins.

“We are thrilled to have Lt. Lu continue her service to the wing. AMDS gets to retain a wonderful Airman with invaluable knowledge of the dental section and now as a clinical provider. We expect great things from her in the future,” Otto said.