CAMP ZAMA, Japan -- Lt. Col. Dolores Toney says the U.S. Army has given her so much, so it only makes sense that she has spent her combined 22-year career returning the favor.
“I’ve always wanted to give back to the Army,” says Toney, 51, a family nurse practitioner assigned to U.S. Army Medical Department Activity – Japan here.
Toney, originally from the Philippines, has familial ties to the Army; her uncle enlisted and fought in the Vietnam War. In 1984, when she was 15, Toney immigrated to the United States from Manila with her family. She joined the Army after graduating high school, serving a three-year enlistment.
Fourteen years later, after earning her bachelor’s in nursing, Toney was commissioned as a second lieutenant. She attributes the Army for affording her the educational opportunities to enter the nursing field, and says her service “compelled her to keep growing and learning professionally,” which led her to earn her doctoral degree. This, in turn, has allowed her to function more autonomously as a nurse practitioner, Toney says.
Family nurse practitioners, Toney explains, are advanced practitioners with prescriptive authorities, “blending clinical expertise in diagnosing and treating health conditions, with an emphasis on disease prevention and health management.” FNPs, she says, help bring a “comprehensive perspective and holistic approach” to health care.
“I see and treat patients in the whole spectrum, from pediatrics to geriatrics,” Toney says. “I try my best to establish a trusting relationship with patients within the time constraint and really listen to them without judgment.”
Toney says she does not take her responsibility as a medical worker lightly. She feels privileged when patients open up and “share their fears and personal experiences and thoughts,” despite the vulnerability this requires.
“My job is very rewarding, especially when I’ve made a positive impact in someone’s life [and] knowing that I helped facilitate that change,” Toney says. “There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing a patient [of yours] improve.”
Toney has spent her medical career giving back to the Army by treating her fellow Soldiers and anyone else who comes into her waiting room. But one of her most fulfilling professional experiences came during the height of a historic pandemic that is currently affecting the entire world: A few months ago, MEDDAC-J received its first patient who had tested positive for COVID-19.
Treating the patient at such a relatively small clinic brought with it many challenges for Toney and her staff, including unknown, evolving and conflicting information on the coronavirus itself; social distancing; anxiety over the virus spreading within the facility; and testing and protective equipment shortages.
However, Toney says, the command team at MEDDAC-J responded quickly by establishing virtual health consultation capabilities, deferring preventative screenings, and revising the clinic’s templates to focus care on those patients with acute injury and viral illnesses.
“I think my experiences and knowledge helped me react to these unprecedented circumstances professionally and calmly, and helped the staff focus on their scope of practice as well,” Toney said.
Though the specter of COVID-19 remains a concern, the clinic’s daily mission of providing safe and quality care has not changed, Toney says.
“The medical field has always been fraught with uncertainty and discomfort—that is what the job entails,” Toney says. “[But] I’d like to think that everyone who chooses to be in the medical field is driven by altruism.”
Toney says she hopes she and her staff are able to learn from these experiences in order to be optimally prepared for the next time the Army faces a similar crisis.
She recalls the commitment she made when she entered the medical field.
“We are on the front lines.”