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NEWS | Feb. 9, 2018

Sailor charts course to recovery

By Airman Helena B. Owens Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

At 12 years old, a Girl Scout trip on an aircraft carrier changed the course of one girl's life forever. While exploring the ship, she realized she wanted to join the Navy someday.

Now U.S. Navy Lt. Elizabeth J. Plowman, a Houston, Texas native, heads Naval Health Clinic Charleston’s physical and occupational therapy department. She was commissioned six years ago.

Plowman decided her career path after receiving care from a physical therapist.

“Like so many others who join this career field, I was injured,” said Plowman. “I spent so much time in training rooms and in physical therapy I began to enjoy it. I saw the benefit of what therapist did and I wanted it to be what I did too.”

Plowman attended Austin College in Sherman, Texas where she received her bachelor’s degree in French and her master’s degree in education. For her doctorate degree in physical therapy, she attended Texas Woman’s University in Houston, Texas, completing the eight-semester program in three years.

“It was a very, very rigorous time in school but it was worth it,” said Plowman. “The program taught me how to treat a myriad of physical ailments.”

Plowman started her Navy career in physical therapy at Naval Medical Center, Portsmouth, VA. Later she transferred to an aircraft carrier before coming to Charleston. She said working on an aircraft carrier was much different than working in a clinic.

“Aboard ship it’s very small,” said Plowman. “It certainly didn’t have all the equipment you would find in a land based clinic. Space was limited but we improvised.”

One of the challenges Plowman has to overcome in a land based clinic is that it could be weeks or months before she sees various patients. On an aircraft carrier, seeing patients was immediate.

During her time at sea, Plowman earned the Surface Warfare Device for medical officers. This certification demonstrates her knowledge of ship operations, navigation and warfighting capabilities.

“I felt very honored to be able to earn this warfare device because most people in the medical field don’t,” said Plowman. “I got to do a lot of things and see a lot of things I wouldn’t normally be able to do.”

Since arriving here, Plowman has drawn from her experiences in other clinics and her time at sea to improve her team’s ability to make physical therapy available for those who need it. 

“She is very involved in patient care,” said U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Samuel Hutcherson, NHCC physical and occupational therapy department hospital corpsman. “She strives to make things better and to make us better technicians.”

Many times when the patients come in, not only does the original injury need rehabilitation, but everything else they’ve done to compensate for the pain needs rehabilitation as well.

“This is a significant challenge,” said Plowman. “We are trying to combat this issue by putting one of our technicians in sick call.”

Plowman thinks of ways to help the clinic operate more efficiently and she works with her 18-member staff to pursue outside educational and family-based goals. She wants to improve their personal lives and ready them for life outside the military.

“She pushes us to be better,” said Hutcherson. “She encourages us to do a better job, not only at work but in our personal lives as well. She is always encouraging us to go to college and she stresses the importance of education.”

Plowman said joining the Navy was something she had always wanted to do. She enjoys helping people and being a physical and occupational therapist gives her satisfaction in doing so.

“I love what I do,” said Plowman. “It is absolutely rewarding. When I get someone in my office who is in pain, it usually causes some level of stress or depression. I help them rehab and see their demeanor change before they leave. Just seeing that transformation, is why I do this every day.”