Life as a ship’s physician

March 24, 2015

OHSU School of Medicine Alumni Council members with Jesse Taylor Schönau, M.D. ’11When Jesse Taylor Schönau, M.D. ’11, starts his day as a family medicine practitioner, his office might be in Hawaii, Singapore or the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Dr. Schönau is a lieutenant and the senior medical officer on the USS Emory S. Land, one of two physicians assigned to care for more than 400 Navy and civilian personnel stationed on the ship.

The USS Emory S. Land supports forward-deployed Navy ships and submarines at sea, providing repair and supply services and also medical care for those personnel.

On January 24, Dr. Schönau offered a rare glimpse of this type of medical practice when he led a tour of the USS Emory S. Land for a group of OHSU School of Medicine Alumni Council members and their guests. The ship was undergoing routine maintenance at a Portland shipyard. 

The group toured multiple levels of the ship, including the top deck with its spectacular views, the bridge where the ship’s Commanding Officer directs steering and navigation, as well as living areas for officers and enlisted personnel. The ship’s medical facilities consist of casualty treatment areas in the forward, middle, and aft sections, as well as a hyperbaric chamber for diving injuries.

Dr. Schönau is responsible for the comprehensive health of all personnel on board, which is no small task. The tight spaces mean only the most basic diagnostic and lab resources can be onboard. As a result a key part of health care on the ship is a robust preventive care and health promotions program, including screenings and immunizations. 

Dr. Schönau explained why this is a great match for him. “Patient interaction is one of the reasons why I went into family medicine, to get to know patients and really understand their needs and provide full-spectrum care,” he said.

Visiting the USS Emory S. LandOne of the most valuable experiences at OHSU that prepared Dr. Schönau for his current role was participating in the Oregon Rural Scholars Program. During his third year as a medical student, Dr. Schönau spent three months in Gold Beach, Ore. doing primary and emergency room care for the community of 2,200 people.

“I learned how much I loved being in a remote area taking care of patients and practicing medicine with limited resources,” he said. “It was an awesome experience.”

On the USS Emory S. Land, Dr. Schönau oversees acute care and emergency services as well. One of his most difficult cases so far was a patient who went into diabetic ketoacidosis.

“When somebody gets really sick or hurt, we may not be able to medevac them right away so it’s our job to stabilize them until the ship is in a position to receive help,” he said. “It’s challenging but also very rewarding.”

Dr. Schönau says he routinely treats minor lacerations and dental pain, common afflictions among young, active-duty personnel.

“We also do a lot of ingrown toenail removal,” he said.

Originally from Newport, Ore., Dr. Schönau says he plans to continue his Navy medical career and hopes to join his wife and family in San Diego when he’s not serving at sea.