From medical school to the military

By The Health News Team | November 11, 2022
Dr. Alissa Speziale

Dr. Alissa Speziale served in the U.S. Navy for 10 years and received the “Veteran of the Year” honor in 2016.

A medical degree combined with military service is a powerful force. Dr. Alissa Speziale, a board-certified gastroenterologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, served in the U.S. Navy for 10 years, a time she says shaped her career and her life.

Dr. Speziale’s interest in medicine and military service began as a teen. She attended a Medical Explorers program in high school and had the opportunity to shadow health care professionals in clinical settings. She loved it and was hooked.

Having two family members who served in the armed forces, Dr. Speziale was also naturally drawn to military service. Her curiosity even brought her to a science camp at the U.S. Naval Academy. And later, in medical school at Johns Hopkins University, her proximity to the nation’s capital reignited her interest in serving.

“Living in the Washington, D.C., area, it was inevitable that the tone of patriotism and service to country would enter my mind,” Dr. Speziale shares. “Building relationships with active-duty members and participating in various ceremonies and traditions at the Naval Academy enticed me to their arena of service. I realized I could do both military and medicine.”

9/11 changes the course of her career
In 2002, she entered active duty in the Navy as a staff internist at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. Just two years later, she was deployed to al-Qa'im, Iraq, for six months with a shock trauma platoon.

“It wasn't on my radar to go to war but after 9/11, that changed,” she says. “In the cover of night, we flew into Kuwait on a C-130 aircraft with the lights off, sitting elbow-to-elbow on parachute benches.”

Dr. Speziale served as the doctor for the battalion aid station, overseeing the detainment facility and the health of 2,600 Marines and sailors. In the desert heat and without running water, she and her team were responsible for triaging and stabilizing casualties of war flown in by a black hawk helicopter. One memory that sticks with her is treating Cpl. Jason Dunham.

“He shielded an enemy grenade with his helmet to save the lives of other Marines in his unit,” Dr. Speziale says. “We stabilized and medevaced him to Germany.”

Dunham was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his brave actions — our nation's highest recognition of valor in combat.

Finding her home at Sharp
Upon returning from deployment, Dr. Speziale entered a gastroenterology fellowship with the Navy and rotated through different health care systems. During her two-month rotation with Sharp Rees-Stealy, she felt at home and joined the medical group in 2012.

“The staff, nurses and physicians quickly became like a family to me,” she says. “I found a practice that was efficient, patient focused and high quality.”

These days, her mission is focused on her family and her community. In addition to caring for patients, she enjoys spending time with her two daughters and keeping up with their many activities.

Among her many career highlights, Dr. Speziale received the “Veteran of the Year” honor in 2016; was a volunteer internist at St. Vincent de Paul Community Clinic; and has worked with and cared for homeless veterans in the community. She also serves on the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s San Diego Chapter Medical Advisory Board.

Dr. Speziale acknowledges the challenges of military service but says the close relationships she developed over the years are incredibly rewarding. “The hardships helped me learn patience, love for patients and appreciation for the good things in front of you,” she says.

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