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LTC(P) Kent J. DeZee, MD, MPH, FACP, MC, USA
Program Director, General Medicine Fellowship, Uniformed Services
University, Bethesda, MD
The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Columbus, OH
Tripler Army Medical Center, Honolulu, HI
Army Lieutenant Colonel (Dr.) Kent DeZee laughs as he recalls
the good-natured, jealousy-inspired ribbing he received from fellow
medical students in Ohio when news of his residency match at
Tripler Army Medical Center (AMC) in Honolulu, Hawaii was
Was it mere chance that an ROTC medical student from the frosty
state of Ohio was assigned to do his medical internship and
residency in the sunny islands of Hawaii? And was it beginner's
luck when the Tripler AMC pulmonary department took him surfing and
he successfully rode his first wave? Probably-but Hawaiians are
more likely to attribute Dr. DeZee's good fortune to "aumakua," his
ancestral guardian spirit. In Hawaiian culture, the aumakua is a
revered member of the ohana (meaning "family") who imparts wisdom
or intercedes on behalf of members of the ohana.
At the time of his residency, Dr. DeZee was a young father whose
daughter Madeline's love for the Disney film Lilo and Stitch
familiarized him with the Hawaiian culture of ohana, but aumakua?
Well, it's hardly the stuff that an earnest student of science
would give any credence to.
From zee to shining zee
Dr. DeZee's assignment to Hawaii and his surfing skills may have
had nothing to do with ancestral spirits working on his behalf, but
he does have ancestral ties to a nation with a rich maritime
history-the Netherlands-and, despite his commitment to America's
land troops, he might come from a long line of mariners. The Dutch
name DeZee means "of the sea," and according to Dr. DeZee, his clan
hails from Rotterdam, one of the largest ports in the world.
In addition to his Dutch ancestry, there are sailors in Dr.
DeZee's immediate lineage who have played a critical role in his
life. Both his father and grandfather served in the U.S. Navy. His
father served aboard the mine sweeper USS Embattle during the
Vietnam War, and his grandfather served in the Pacific aboard the
aircraft carrier USS Hancock during WWII.
Despite the allure of sandy beaches and surfboards, Dr. DeZee
had no intention of resting on his laurels. After completing his
residency and then serving as Assistant Program Director at
Tripler, he was eager to do research, publish articles, and advance
his career as an educational leader. So, much to the chagrin of
then 5-year-old Madeline, Dr. DeZee and family returned to the
mainland where he began his Fellowship program in General Medicine
at Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, MD, studying
epidemiology and earning his master's degree in public health.
"One of the best things about being a military physician," says
Dr. DeZee, "are the educational opportunities available to us."
Uniformed Services University, also called "America's Medical
School," is the only federal medical school in the United States.
"USU students receive the same medical education offered by
civilian medical schools," says Dr. DeZee, "but USU provides extra
training that is military specific, like learning about the medical
effects of ballistics, chemical & biological warfare, trauma
care, and how to work in a field environment."
Today, Dr. DeZee serves as program director for the same 2-year
fellowship program at USU that he graduated from, a program that
helps internists focus on becoming clinician-administrators,
clinician- educators, or clinician-researchers. Since completing
his fellowship, he has taught numerous graduate medical education
courses, received several military and academic awards, delivered
professional presentations at regional, national and international
meetings, and published a vast array of articles for peer-reviewed
In addition to his extensive administrative and teaching
experience, Dr. DeZee has clocked in hundreds of clinical hours at
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He also served on
humanitarian missions to Chuuk, one of the four Federated States of
Micronesia, and completed a combat deployment to Iraq where he
served as staff internist for a combat hospital. "It is an honor
and a privilege to care for America's heroes and train the next
generation of America's military doctors," says Dr. DeZee, "If that
doesn't get you up in the morning, you need to find another
All in the family
Dr. DeZee says he was interested in a career in medicine from an
early age. He was a smart kid growing up in a small blue collar
town (pop. 3,500) in Ohio that offered little exposure to
professional careers, but he knew that he liked science and wanted
to help people. After getting an ROTC scholarship to the University
of Miami where he majored in biology, Dr. DeZee went on to attend
medical school at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
During his third year, he chose internal medicine.
"I chose internal medicine," says Dr. DeZee, "because I decided
that I really liked talking to people and helping people with
problems that weren't easy to figure out. I wanted to be
challenged. I also liked the idea of long-term relationships with
people who really need you."
Like the Hawaiian culture of ohana, family and long-term
relationships are highly valued by Dr. DeZee. He credits his mother
for teaching him the value of education, his father, the value of
hard work, and like his wife Tiffany, who is a teacher, he has a
passion for helping others achieve their goals. "In the military,
you collect a lot of mentors, people who look out for you, and who
help you to succeed," says Dr. DeZee. "When my patients do well, or
when my trainees get board certified, and go on to lead their own
research projects or their own educational divisions-that is what I
find most rewarding."
Another rewarding experience for Dr. DeZee has been his
involvement with ACP. He got involved when he was just an intern,
citing the influence of physician mentors who told him about the
benefits of MKSAP and ACP's annual meeting. Over the years, he
became increasingly involved with the ACP Army Chapter and last
year he was elected by his peers to serve as ACP Governor.
In addition to his career, Dr. DeZee likes to exercise and bikes
to work every day, but his greatest pleasure is spending time with
his family. Madeline, now a sophomore in high school, loves
science, and son, Luke, is a third-grader who loves sports.
"Another perk of military service," says Dr. DeZee, "is that
members and their families can enjoy travel by flying 'space
available' in military aircraft." Last summer the DeZee family flew
to Europe on a C-17 and came back on a C-5 ("The plane you can
drive a tank in through the nose," he explains.). They toured six
countries, including the Netherlands, and visited the American
cemeteries at Omaha Beach and Luxembourg where General Patton is
This summer, the family will be traveling again, but for a
different reason-Dr. DeZee is being assigned to a new duty station.
Most children would not relish the prospect of registering for new
schools and finding new friends, but Dr. DeZee's children are not
complaining. Seems the DeZee family is heading back to Hawaii where
Dr. DeZee will be taking on new leadership positions.
Aloha, Dr. DeZee. May the wind be at your back and may the
aumakua always be with you.
April 2014 Issue of IMpact
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