Armed to advocate for professional parity

In the Navy, on a congresswoman’s staff and now at Walter Reed Medical Center, Shevonne Wells is carving her path as a podiatric physician determined to be involved in health care policy and advocacy.

Shevonne Wells has pursued a variety of assignments, including with Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur, at right, and worked to gain lessons and relationships she plans to apply to a greater goal: parity for podiatric physicians in the military and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Shevonne Wells, D.P.M.’11, M.H.A.’11, DABPM, FACFAS, has many accomplishments in her life, and you get the sense they won’t be her last. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy, the Navy lieutenant traveled the world to provide humanitarian aid to victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, replenish ships in the Persian Gulf and work on a one-star admiral’s staff as protocol and emergency preparedness officer for the Pacific Northwest.

“I chose to serve in the Navy for its diverse opportunities in education, to travel and to continue my family’s heritage of service,” she says. “My grandfather was a P-47 Thunderbolt pilot, and his sister was an Air Women’s Army Corps officer during World War II.”

After enrolling in the College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery (CPMS), she served as an active Navy reservist out of Navy Operational Support Center Des Moines. She became one of the nation’s first podiatric medical students to receive the military’s Health Professions Scholarship, opened to podiatric students in 2009. Her interest in sports medicine led to an article on navicular stress reactions in runners authored with CPMS Dean Robert Yoho, D.P.M., M.S., FACFAS, that was published in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association.

“My interest in lower extremity biomechanics as a recreational athlete, combined with my desire to be both a clinician and a surgeon, is what initially drew me to podiatric medicine,” she says. “I’ve worn custom orthotics since I was 16 years old. They took me from running one mile to finishing marathons to summiting mountains.”

After a three-year podiatric surgical residency at the Womack Army Medical Center and a tour in Japan, in 2016 Wells became the first podiatric physician in more than a decade to deploy on a U.S. hospital ship, the USNS Mercy. She lectured at Bicol Regional Teaching Hospital in Legazpi City, Philippines, and strengthened partnerships in Timor-Leste, Vietnam and Malaysia through community clinic engagements and service as the shipboard coordinator for surgical subject matter exchanges abroad.

“Humbling to my core – the only way to describe my experiences in South Asia,” she says. “The art and science of wound care and podiatric medicine has not yet made it to that part of the globe. For example, in Timor-Leste, they only have general surgeons; in Malaysia, they only have general orthopedic surgeons in their military. However, the concept of focused lower extremity specialists is gradually taking shape.”

Wells then took a decidedly different direction in her professional journey: She applied for and was accepted as one of the Navy participants in the Office of the Secretary of Defense Legislative Fellowship, a program designed, according to its website, to broaden Navy officers’ “experience and knowledge in the operations and organization of Congress while enhancing the Navy’s ability to fulfill its role in the national policy development process.”

Fellows serve a yearlong assignment in the office of a U.S. senator or representative who serves on a defense-related committee. They fulfill duties based on the needs of the office. Of the 62 applicants in Wells’ cohort, 20 were selected; she was one of three Medical Service Corps staff chosen. Podiatric medicine is the only surgical specialty not in the Medical Corps within the Armed Forces, as podiatrists are considered “non-physicians” according to the laws that govern the military.

She was assigned from January through December 2017 to the office of Representative Marcy Kaptur, who represents Ohio’s ninth congressional district. The Democrat is the longest-serving woman in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives, with 17 terms, and the longest serving woman from Ohio.

“I’ve not known a more intelligent, energetic and authentic person for a boss, role model and leader,” Wells says. “She sets a high bar. It was a privilege to work for her and her team.”

Wells worked on issues relating to appropriations in energy, defense, foreign affairs, health care, agriculture and veterans’ affairs. While initially concerned about the political environment in Washington, she quickly learned that Democrats and Republicans interacted “more than you see in the media.”

“It’s bipartisan work behind the scenes,” she says, “plus Congresswoman Kaptur and her team were so inspiring.”

Wells also learned how the legislative process works and honed her negotiation skills. Both will be helpful in what she wants to help achieve: greater parity for podiatric physicians in the military and in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in terms of credentialing, patient admitting privileges and other areas.

“In some hospitals, that’s coming around among the providers, but it’s a matter of getting to the people in administration who make the decisions. They need to be educated on the cost-effectiveness of our care,” she says. “That’s what drove me in part to sign up for the M.H.A. program [at DMU].”

In January, Wells began a three year assignment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, one of the nation’s largest military medical centers with nearly 7,100 staff members. Upon her arrival, she was specially detailed to David Smith, M.D., former acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, a retired rear admiral and occupational medicine specialist, to work as part of his eight-member team in a health care reform “cell.” The team is facilitating the Defense Health Agency’s development of plans to execute the military health system changes mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act that Congress passed in 2017. She and Smith are the only two providers on the team.

Now a Diplomate of the American Board of Podiatric Medicine and a Fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, Wells is committed to a full-length military career of 20 years – she’s more than halfway there – as well as being an advocate for and leader in her profession.

“I see myself continuing to provide patient care well into the future. However, my ultimate goal is to carve a path into a health care policy development assignment and, eventually, executive medicine, if that’s in the cards,” she says.

“I have learned so much in the last year pertaining to relationships, our government and how they all interplay with one another – public, private, nonprofit. As a community, if we continue to leverage them all simultaneously, we’ll generate an unstoppable synergy that will continue our profession’s forward progress.”

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