Houston VA PA to deploy to fight COVID-19 - Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Houston VA PA to deploy to fight COVID-19

Image of Deborah Blackshire in uniform in front of Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.

U.S. Army Major and Houston VA Physician Assistant Deborah Blackshire poses in front of Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center just days before her deployment.

By Todd Goodman, Public Affairs Specialist
Friday, April 17, 2020

For Army reservist and Houston VAMC physician assistant Deborah Blackshire, life is a balancing act as she ramps up to deploy to a field hospital to help fight the Coronavirus.

The Chicago native and mother of three began her career immediately after high school by attending the Practical Nurse course through the Army Reserves. She cut her teeth in nursing at the VA Medical Center in San Antonio before joining the Houston VA in 2008.

“I loved it,” said Blackshire, who spent 12 years as a nurse. “I wanted to go further and further in the medical field so I ended up becoming a physician assistant in 2002. But being a nurse was very rewarding. It was amazing.”

Being a PA for 17 years has allowed her to gain experience in many different areas, such as internal medicine, pediatrics, general surgery, and congenital heart surgery. She currently works in mental health and general medicine on an Assertive Community Treatment team with Health Care for Homeless Veterans. 

“The homeless population has a unique set of needs and it can be difficult for them to seek care,” she said. “Our team has been able to help a lot of these Veterans remain healthy and functioning in society—Veterans who otherwise would have been lost to schizophrenia and things like that.” 

It’s now time for a different challenge as the newly-pinned Army major will help lead a field hospital in an undisclosed area for an undisclosed time period.

“It’s probably going to be one of these major urban areas that’s having a hard time with the numbers,” she said. “The Army is setting up field hospitals across the country, so I’ll be going to support one of them.”

Deploying is what she signed up for—it comes with the territory. She’s happy to do it, but at the same time is nervous about leaving her children.

“Typically, when you are deployed overseas you aren’t fighting a war on the home front at the same time,” said Blackshire. “Now home needs protecting and that is my only apprehension. I’ve been in the medical field 30 years, am well trained and feel very prepared for that fight … just a little nervous about leaving the kids, especially my 7-year old daughter whose birthday is next month.”

As is the case for everyone, the COVID-19 impact can be felt both personally and professionally for Blackshire. Gone are her at-home visits with her at-risk for homelessness Veterans. Her visits now happen over the phone.

“Part of the exam is visual and that has been a huge adjustment for me,” she said.

Since getting word of her upcoming deployment, Blackshire has burned the candle at both ends, averaging about three hours of sleep per night.

“I’m either writing patient notes for the VA, ordering supplies for the kids, or getting my military gear together,” she said. “Something is always popping up that I have to adjust fire for, but once I know home is good and that my Veterans are taken care of, then I can go out there and effectively do my job on deployment.”

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